Week 16: Should Have Been a Movie

We say something “should have been a movie” when the action is unexpected, a bit player suddenly becomes the star, the good guys triumph over the bad guys when all hope seems lost, there’s a good love story, and some adventure is involved.

I’m sure many of my ancestors experienced some “should have been a movie” moments throughout their complicated and adventurous lives, but it’s not always easy to tease out the elements that would make a good series to binge-watch on Netflix.  But I’ve picked one such story.  Here’s the pitch to potential investors and producers:

Against All Odds


Plymouth, Essex, and Dartmouth in Massachusetts, 1637-1655. 

Cast of Characters:

  • William Spooner, 16-year-old indentured servant (and my 9th great-grandfather)
  • John Coombs, William’s master
  • Sarah Priest Coombs, wife of John and daughter of Mayflower passengers Degory Priest and his wife Sarah Allerton
  • Isaac Allerton, father of Sarah Allerton
  • Fear Brewster, mother of Sarah Allerton
  • Mary Priest Pratt, sister of Sarah Priest Coombs
  • William Brewster IV, religious leader of Pilgrims on the Mayflower, grandfather of Sarah Allerton. and uncle/guardian of William’s mother, Ann Peck Spooner.

Episode 1: Indentured

William arrives in New Plymouth in 1637; he enters into a 6-year indenture with John Holmes, a freeman, landowner, and messenger to the General Court.

Episode 2: Traded

John Holmes almost immediately signs over William’s indenture to another resident of the colony, John Coombs, who has been in the colony since 1630.  John and his wife Sarah have three children – John (born in 1632), Francis (born in 1635), and Elizabeth (born in 1640).

Episode 3: A Day in the Life

As an indentured servant, William’s duties include assisting his master on his farm and helping to supervise John and Francis as they work with their father.  A housemaid, Elizabeth Partridge, assists Mrs. Coombs with household duties and supervision of the Coombs’s young daughter, also named Elizabeth.

Episode 4:  The Difficult Mr. Coombs

Mr. Coombs is a hardworking, conscientious member of the Plymouth community when William first comes to work for him.  However, over the years Mr. Coombs begins to drink heavily and behave in ways that disrupt the community.  He is soon stripped of his status of “freeman” and is relieved of other responsibilities he has in the community.  William takes over more and more of the responsibilities for the farm and mill that Mr. Coombs had begun to develop on his land.

Episode 5:  The Unfortunate Mr. Coombs

When the household becomes aware that Mr. Coombs has not returned home from a night of drinking at the local tavern, they are not alarmed at first.  But as the day wears on and there is no word of Mr. Coombs, William leads the efforts to locate his master.  He takes the two sons of the household – ages 16 and 11 – with him on his search; this is not the first time Mr. Coombs has gone missing, and they know all of the places to look for him.  Meanwhile, Elizabeth stays with Mrs. Coombs and little Elizabeth, waiting for the men to return.  They return with the hard news that they had found Mr. Coombs in the nearby pond, where he had apparently fallen on his way home the previous night.

Episode 6:  Mrs. Coombs

Despite Mr. Coombs’s recent decline into drunkenness and irresponsibility, Mrs. Coombs loved him dearly and seems unable to rise above her grief to tend to her property or her children.  All she can do is lament the loss of Mr. Coombs and yearn for her home and her friends in Leyden, where she was born and had lived among the Separatists who made their home there.  She cannot be dissuaded – she insists on going back home to recover from her grief.  She will not be gone long, she promises.  She will come back, healed and ready to assume the responsibility of her home and children.  She signs over to 25-year-old William the guardianship of her two youngest children. Her oldest son, John, is already indentured to another master in the community.

Episode 7:  William and Elizabeth

Because William is already doing most of the work on the farm, it is not difficult for him to continue this pattern.  Elizabeth, the indentured maid who had been the primary helper for Mrs. Coombs in the performance of the cooking and housekeeping chores for the family, continues in those duties, incorporating care for the young daughter Elizabeth in her daily routine.  It doesn’t take long for the companionship between William and Elizabeth to turn into something deeper; when Elizabeth finds herself with child a few months later, she and William marry.  Their son, John, is born six months later.  The household is set: William and Elizabeth could manage the farm and community responsibilities while raising Francis, young Elizabeth, and the infant John.

Episode 8:  Elizabeth is Gone.

Their happiness doesn’t last long.  When Elizabeth finds herself pregnant again a short time after John’s birth, she and William are delighted. Adding to their family will be a blessing.  But, as was often the case in the primitive conditions of colonial Massachusetts, Elizabeth’s pregnancy does not go smoothly.  She is often ill, and, as the time of her confinement grows near, she take to her bed and noticeably weakens.  When her travail begins, she is not able to withstand the trauma, and she succumbs – as does their infant.  William is left to care for all three children on his own.

Episode 9:  It Takes a Village

William is at his wit’s end.  He doesn’t know how he’s going to keep his family going.  He learns that Mrs. Coombs has died in Leyden, and he is now officially and permanently responsible for the Coombs children as well as for his infant son.  He turns to the community for help, and it is forthcoming.  William’s connection to the powerful Brewster and Allerton families in Plymouth focuses the community’s attention on his plight. 

  • William’s mother, Anne Peck Powell (she had remarried after the death of William’s father in 1630) is living a day’s ride away in Salem, but she is in poor health and can’t help her son.
  • However, Anne’s guardian (appointed after the death of her mother Prudence Brewster in 1609) was Elder William Brewster IV, leader of the Plymouth colony until his death in 1644.  
  • There is a second link to this important family: Mrs. Coombs’s mother was Fear Brewster, the second daughter of Elder William Brewster IV. 
  • Mrs. Coombs’s brother is Isaac Allerton, another leader of the Plymouth Colony. 
  • Both Fear and William are gone by 1648, but many relatives of the Brewster and Allerton family are still living in Plymouth and nearby Duxbury at this time, and members of his family step forward to help William.  

Episode 10:  William Finds Love Again

In 1652, William remarries after four years of raising his children without a partner.  He marries Hannah Pratt, daughter of Joshua Pratt and his wife Bathsheba, and they go on to have eight more children.  William lives until 1684, when he died in Dartmouth; he and Hannah had gone there to live with one of their children.


It is 1734 in Dutchess County, New York (in the Hudson River Valley between Manhattan and Albany).  William Spooner’s 2nd great-granddaughter Rebecca Tripp is marrying Benanuel Deuel, the 3rd great-grandson of two Mayflower passengers – Francis Cook and Richard Warren – who were neighbors of William’s mother’s family – the Brewsters and the Allertons – in Plymouth 100 years earlier.  Both families had moved to New York with a group of Quakers that emerged in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, at the end of the 17th century.


All of the historical figures in this Netflix series are accurately identified with the events documented in the story. I have embellished the details a little — for example, I don’t know the exact circumstances of Mr. Coombs’s death, but my scenario is plausible and in keeping with the overall narrative. The individuals identified in the Epilogue — Rebecca Tripp and Benanuel Deuel — are my 5th great-grandparents.

It’s been interesting to dig into this story. I think I’m going to try to turn this into a historical novel. I’ve done a lot of writing, and I often read historical fiction, so I can totally do this. Right? I’ll let you know. And maybe it will be a movie!!!


Week 4: Education

“Old Main,” Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois. Built in 1857

I’m writing about my 2nd great-grandmother Mary Ann Botts (1838-19113) again this week.  I wanted to write about different ancestors for the 52 Ancestors challenge, but I keep coming back to Mary Ann.

My first hint that Mary Ann had gone to college was in her brief Find-A-Grave biography.  It said “She attended Knox College 1858-1861, Galesburg, IL and became a teacher.”  That surprised me.  Although her grandfather was a preacher (and thus we can assume he was an educated man), there is no indication that anyone else in the family went to college.  Certainly not the women!

But here was Mary Ann, 20 years old, reportedly in college.  What was this all about?

First, let me tell you a little about Knox College.  (This information is taken from the Knox College website https://www.knox.edu/about-knox/our-history/perspectives-on-knox-history/origins-of-knox-college.  It was founded in 1837 by George Washington Gale, who was born in Stanford, New York, in 1789.  He was an itinerant teacher in rural New York, traveling from town to town and teaching in local schoolhouses.  This was the part of New York state that was called the ‘Burned-Over District’ for the fiery evangelical revivals that occurred there.  Gale noticed the role that religion played in the homes of families that boarded him on his travels, and he set his sights on the ministry.  He graduated from Union College in 1814 and entered Princeton Theological Seminary.  However, poor health forced him to abandon his studies at Princeton and pursue active missionary work instead.  He soon accepted a pastorate in Adams County, New York (in the middle of the Burned-Over District).

Poor health again led him to leave New York to travel to the warmer climate of the southeastern United States, where he visited several colleges including Georgetown, Hampton Sydney, and the University of Virginia.  He disagreed with UVA’s founder, Thomas Jefferson, on the importance of the separation of religion from the University.

He returned to New York, this time with ideas about advanced education.  He was a proponent of what he called the “manual labor plan” – what we would call a work-study program today.  Students who could not pay to go to college were required to perform 3 ½ hours of manual labor each day in exchange for their education.

These efforts led to the formation of the Oneida Institute in 1827, a manual labor training school for evangelists.  Oneida soon developed a distinct abolitionist character that became a defining feature of the school. In 1833, students at Oneida founded an Anti-Slavery society, inspired by William Lloyd Garrison.  The manual labor theory spread across the country in the 1830s and 1840s.  Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati, founded in 1829, was one of the schools based on this theory.  The abolitionist mentality that characterized the Oneida Institute moved to Lane as well; however, Cincinnati did not receive the abolitionist ideas as well as Oneida.  Local pressure was exerted on the school to disband its anti-slavery society; rather than do that, a great number of Lane students left the school.  They founded Oberlin College in 1835 with the abolitionist principles they had been forced to forgo at Lane.

Gale continued to push his manual labor theory, recruiting supporters to found another manual labor college further west.  A scouting party found available land in Illinois, and in 1836, more than 30 families from upstate New York accompanied him to found Galesburg, Illinois, which was named for him.  The following year, the Knox Manual College (later Knox College) was founded in the newly established town.

Gale’s original plan included the creation of a Female Seminary, which opened in 1844.  The progressive character of Knox College was derived from Gale’s experiences as a preacher and educator in New York.

This is the place where Mary Ann found herself a few years later – 1858-59.  I was curious about Mary Ann’s connection to Knox College, so I wrote to the registrar at Knox College to find out what they could tell me about Knox College at the time Mary Ann attended the school.  They sent me the 1858-59 Knox College catalog, which included a list of students in attendance and a lot of information about the college itself.  This is a remarkable document and I’m still digesting it. The first thing I discovered was that Mary Ann did not go to college on her own; a man identified as “S. Botts” also appears in the catalog.  Now, there are two possibilities: this could be either Mary Ann’s brother Simeon or her brother Sidney.  Simeon was two years younger than Mary Ann, and Sidney was three years younger.  These are the only two Knox students from Plymouth (and the only two from the entire county).  I don’t imagine I’ll ever be able to figure out which brother it was. 

This is Mary Ann Botts, on page 18 of the Knox College catalog
And here is Simeon/Simon, on page 14 of the catalog

I had a lot of questions about the Botts siblings at Knox College.

What were the admissions requirements at Knox College in the late 1850s?  Mary Ann needs to pass examinations in Geography, Arithmetic, Elementary Algebra, English and Latin Grammar, Harness’s Arnold’s First Book (Latin), Latin Reader, Zoology, Physiology, Physical Geography, Uranography (the mapping of celestial bodies), and the History of the United States.  Simeon/Sidney would also have to pass tests in Greek Grammar and Philosophy.  This made me wonder about how Mary Ann and her siblings would have achieved an education like this.  There were schools in Hancock County as early as the 1830s, but it’s hard for me to imagine the children of farmers getting the kind of education that would allow them to pass these admissions tests.

Second, how much did it cost to attend Knox College in the 1850s? This is what the catalog says:

As a student in the College, Simeon/Sidney’s costs would have been $28.00 per year (the top three lines).  As a student in the Female Seminary, Mary Ann’s costs would have been $127 (next four lines).  I think.  The Botts family was doing pretty well in Hancock County – the 1860 census shows her father’s property valued at more than $12,000 and her grandfather’s property at about $6,000.  It looks to me as if the family could afford to send these two young people to college.  However, if that turned out to be a problem, we also know that “manual labor” (work-study) programs were available at Knox.

Next, how did she and her brother get to Galesburg from their home in Plymouth, Illinois? The best information I’ve been able to access documents that a railroad link between Galesburg and Quincy, Illinois, opened in 1854.  This railway passed within a few miles of the small village of Plymouth; I haven’t been able to determine if there was a train station there, but I suspect there was a station somewhere in Hancock County.  I can’t know for sure that this is how they traveled to Galesburg, but it makes sense.  It might also explain part of Mary Ann’s story that I wrote about last week – her train trip to visit her sister in Kansas in 1900.

Where did they stay in Galesburg?  By 1858 the college had built campus housing for both men and women, so as far as I can tell they both lived in this campus housing.

What was the college calendar like? The Academic year consisted of forty weeks, commencing the first Thursday of September and closing the fourth Thursday of June, with a two-week winter vacation.  I don’t imagine that Mary Ann and Simeon/Sidney went home other than for the two-week winter vacation. Here’s more detail about the 1858-1859 calendar.

What would Mary Ann and Simeon/Sidney have studied while they were at Knox? 

Here’s the Course of Study for Simeon/Sidney
This is the Course of Study for Mary Ann in the Female Collegiate Department:

I don’t know how long Mary Ann and Simeon/Simon attended Knox College.  The unsourced statement on Mary Ann’s Find-A-Grave site where I got the first clue that she had attended the college also said that she was there from 1858-1861.  That would be consistent with the three-year course of study outlined above.  But I don’t know.

One event of national historical significance occurred at Knox College in 1858 – while Mary Ann and Simeon were in school there.  Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas were running for a seat in the United States Senate that year – Lincoln as a Republican and Douglas as a Democrat.  Feeling about slavery were running high in the country – and would erupt in a Civil War just three years later.  As part of their campaign, Lincoln and Douglas met on the debate stage seven times; one of those debates was at Knox College on October 7, 1858.

This vintage postcard commemorates the October 7, 1858, Lincoln-Douglas Debate at Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois.  I like this postcard because my 2nd great-grandmother Mary Ann and her brother Simeon/sidney may well have been in this picture.

Lincoln lost this election a month later – but he went on to win the presidential election in 1860.  The rest is, literally, history. Slavery was the hot topic for these debates, and it is important to recognize that neither of these men favored the abolition of the institution.  Douglas supported the cause of popular sovereignty – a point of view that allowed the people who settled in new territories in the west to decide the status of slavery there.  Lincoln, on the other hand, opposed the spread of slavery to the west under any circumstances, although he accepted the institution of slavery in the parts of the country where it already existed.

The same Find-A-Grave statement said that Mary Ann had been a teacher after attending Knox.  I don’t have direct evidence of that, although it would have been a logical choice for an educated and unmarried young woman on the frontier in the 1860s.  Mary Ann married William Coke in Plymouth in November of 1861, which doesn’t leave much time for her to teach if she attended Knox for the entire three years of the program outlined above.  William’s family lived near the Botts family in Plymouth.  They had come to Hancock County from Kentucky just like Mary Ann’s family, and the families were probably close.  It’s not surprising that Mary Ann married William.  Mary Ann’s younger brother Sidney married William’s younger sister Miriam in Plymouth in 1866.

Now I want to tell you a bit more about Simeon/Sidney.  Despite how I have referred to them in this essay, they were two distinct individuals.  They both enlisted in the 28th Illinois Infantry on the same day, August 17, 1861.  They were both sent to Camp Butler, Illinois (near Springfield), for training. 

However, their fates diverged at that point.  Simeon contracted an illness at Camp Butler and was discharged.  He came home and died from that illness in March of 1862.  Sidney went on to serve with his unit through the Battle of Shiloh and the siege of Corinth in 1862.  He was apparently wounded at one of these encounters, as he was discharged for disability in December of 1862.  He filed for an “invalid” pension in 1882, although he was apparently well enough to marry and raise a family after the war.  He died in 1913 – perhaps coincidentally, the same year that his sister Mary Ann died.

Mary Ann’s life went a bit sideways after her marriage.  She and William had a child – a girl they named Carey – in 1862.   Unfortunately, William died in 1864.  I haven’t been able to find out how he died.  He doesn’t appear to have served in the Civil War – or at least I can’t find any evidence of it.  One unattributed source said that he died of typhus.  To add insult to injury, their daughter Carey died the following year, in August of 1865. 

The more I think about it, the more I believe that Mary Ann may have been a teacher between 1865 and 1867.  She was a childless widow before she remarried in 1867.  It makes sense to me that an educated woman like Mary Ann would have found a way to put her education to use at a point when so much had been taken from her.

I am transfixed by this part of Mary Ann’s story. I was a teacher, so I identify with this aspect of Mary Ann’s life. I have just ordered a book published by the Hancock County Historical Society — Rural One-Room Schools of Hancock County, Illinois, 1830s-1960s. I’m looking forward to getting this book. Here’s how the Historical Society describes this book:

This over 500 page book will consist of the account of how the rural one room schools began, about the superintendents and other history of how they helped in furthering education in Hancock County. This volume is comprised of 24 townships in the county with a total of 169 rural one room schools. Each school will include names of teachers, surnames of families who attended the school, photos depicting life in those years to help visualize the setting of education from 1830 to 1960 in Hancock County. Some of these began to consolidate over the years to become other influential rural school districts.

I hope that Mary Ann’s name appears among the teachers, and that I will see a lot of surnames of family members who grew up in Hancock County.

Week 46: Tombstones

“YOLO” is a popular abbreviation on social media these days.  It stands for “You Only Live Once,” and indicates a willingness to do something dangerous or thrilling.  A 1967 James Bond movie was called “You Only Live Twice,” and a website about the movie says that the phrase came from a haiku supposedly written by Ian Fleming himself (although he may have borrowed it from the 17th-century Japanese poet Matsuo Basho):

You only live twice.
Once when you’re born, and once when
You look death in the face

(Not to be a pedant – Hah! Say those of you who know me – but there are too many syllables in the last line.)

According to this, my 2nd great-grandfather, Oliver Kile, lived several times (he was at the edge of death more than once), but he only died once – in Natchez, Mississippi, on September 13, 1863, after the siege of Vicksburg.  However, I know of four markers honoring his death.

This is the Illinois Memorial on the Vicksburg National Military Park.  This is the first marker honoring Oliver.

I think Oliver was born in 1829 in Ross County, Ohio (I say “I think” because two men named Oliver Kyle were kicking around the Ohio Valley in the 1820s.)  His family moved to Illinois when he was a young boy, and he was living in Missouri with his wife Susan and three children when war broke out in 1861.  He traveled back to Illinois and enlisted in the 28th Illinois Infantry.  He was taken prisoner at Shiloh.  He contracted malaria in the prison camp at Montgomery and was released on parole to return to his family.  Although he had not fully regained his health, he returned to his unit in August 1862 and was present at the Siege of Vicksburg.  His malaria recurred and he died in the general hospital in Natchez, Mississippi, on September 13, 1963.

The interior of the Illinois Memorial is lined with bronze plaques noting the men who served in the various units involved in the Siege of Vicksburg.  “Oliver Kile” is the fourth name from the bottom of this picture. This is the second marker honoring Oliver.
Oliver was buried in an unmarked grave in Natchez.  This picture shows the rows of graves in this cemetery, many simply labeled “unknown.”  One of them almost certainly marks Oliver’s grave. This is the third marker honoring Oliver.
This flat marker is in Forest Grove Cemetery in Milam County, Texas, where Susan moved with her children in 1870.  Susan is buried next to this marker.  This is the fourth marker honoring Oliver.

I haven’t been able to figure out the circumstances that led Oliver’s family to place this marker here. Many members of the Kile (Kyle) family are buried here, including Susan and Oliver’s daughter Matty (my great-grandmother) and many members of Oliver’s extended family – nieces, nephews, cousins, grandchildren, and so forth.  Matty died in 1932 in another part of Texas and was brought back to this cemetery to be buried with her parents and her husband Frank, who was buried here in 1899.  I know a lot about Oliver’s life because someone who knew his story wrote an inscription that was carved on this marker.  Here’s a transcription of what the marker says:

In Memory of Oliver Kile

Husband, Father, Farmer, and Civil War Soldier

Oliver Kile was 5 years old when his father died in 1835. He moved with his mother Nancy from Ohio to Quincy, Illinois where he grew up. He married Susan Amesly Overman in Sullivan County, Missouri March 2, 1856. They were living at Linnels, Missouri when the Civil War started.

Oliver traveled to Pitsfield, Illinois and enlisted in the US Army August 17, 1861 to serve 3 years assigned to the 28th Illinois Infantry Co B. His unit was the first to arrive at Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River near Shiloh. Early Sunday morning, April 6, 1862, his unit was called out and assigned a position on the left of the front line in the peach orchard and immediately came under attack. He was taken prisoner in the April 6 battle, moved to Corinth, Miss, then Tuscaloosa, Alabama and confined at Montgomery. He contracted sickness while a prisoner and was released on parole May 23, 1862. His parole expired Aug 31, 1862 but he never regained his health. He rejoined his unit and was present during the siege of Vicksburg.

Following the surrender of Vicksburg, July 4, 1863, his unit moved to Natchez, Miss. Oliver Kile died Sept 13, 1863 in the general hospital at Natchez of the disease contracted earlier. Military records leave little doubt Oliver is one of many buried as an unknown soldier in the Natchez National Military Park Cemetery.

Susan came to Texas in 1872 with her children, changed the spelling of the family name to KYLE and lived out her days in this area. Inside the Illinois memorial at Vicksburg Oliver Kile is listed on the bronze tablet as a member of the 28th Illinois volunteers. He must also be remembered here at Forest Grove where his family rests.

I have visited the Illinois Memorial in Vicksburg and taken a picture of the plaque bearing Oliver’s name.  I have visited the cemetery in Natchez and looked out at the array of tombstones honoring the unknown individuals who are buried here.  I have visited the cemetery at Forest Grove Church in Milam County and have placed a flower on Oliver’s marker. 

Week 35: Free Space

My mother’s family followed a complicated path across the country between the arrival of her Dutch ancestors in New Amsterdam in 1647 and my mother’s birth in El Campo, Texas, in 1921.  Three legs of their journey happened because the family was offered free land (Free Space, get it?), which encouraged them to make the move. These moves – from New Jersey to Maryland, from Illinois to Nebraska, and from Nebraska to Oklahoma – are marked by the red lines on this map

This week’s prompt is “Free Space,” and I’m going to write about the times when my maternal ancestors got free land as they moved west over the course of 250 years.

The immigrant ancestor on my mother’s line was my 8th great-grandfather Dirck Janse Woertman, who was 16 years old when he came to New Amsterdam with his mother and siblings in 1647.  The family lived in Brooklyn until Dirck’s son, Jan Dircksen Woertman, moved his family to Somerset, New Jersey, in 1699.  Jan had 10 children, including my 6th great-grandfather Abraham, in New Jersey.  Abraham’s four sons – including my 5th great-grandfather Jacob (1740-1821) all received land grants in Allegany County, Maryland, in return for their Revolutionary War Service.

The Revolutionary War land grant process was not complicated.  Veterans from the Revolution were offered land grants instead of back pay because the country was deeply in debt from the expenses of the Revolution and the disruption of the economy (especially foreign trade) that accompanied it.  These land grants varied in size; grants from the national government were often 160 acres in size, but state land grants were often smaller.  My Workman ancestors received grants from the state of Maryland, the home state of the military unit they joined during the war.

Here’s a list of the land patents awarded to members of the Workman family in Allegany County.  Jacob’s name does not appear on the list, but other sources tell me he was the grantee for the land called Workman’s Desire (by the red star on this list).  The dates show when the land was last surveyed. (I like most of the names given to the land patents – Workman’s Desire, Workman’s Farm, Workman’s Fortune, Workman’s Sugar Camp.  I’m not so sure about the Snake Den.)

The land was in Cumberland, Maryland

None of the Workman brothers stayed on this land for very long.  Within four decades after receiving this land in 1780, they all had moved on, to Pennsylvania, Virginia, Ohio, or Kentucky.  My 5th great-grandfather, Jacob, had moved to Kentucky by 1815, taking many of his children with him.  This included my 4th great-grandfather, Abraham Workman.

The next couple of generations of this family lived in Kentucky for a while – some for many decades – but my line of the family moved on to Tennessee after just a few years in Kentucky.  Abraham’s oldest son (and my 3rd great-grandfather), James Workman, had relocated to Kentucky with his family but was living in Tennessee by 1826.  The family stayed in Tennessee until after the Civil War, when James was chased out of Tennessee by the Ku Klux Klan for his pro-Union views.

After two decades in Illinois, some of the family in Illinois (several Workman branches were living in the Springfield area by then) decided to take advantage of the Homestead Act and acquire land in Nebraska.

So the next place my Workman ancestors got free land was in Nebraska.  Here’s the document that shows 80 acres of land given to John B. Workman along with the details of his land patent.

Who is John B. Workman, you ask?  He’s both my 2nd great-uncle by marriage (through my great-grandmother Mary Elizabeth Thomas) and my 1st cousin 5x removed (I think) through my great-grandfather Thomas Calvin Workman.  Hope that clears it all up.  He and his family lived near Springfield, Illinois, the same area where my 2nd great-grandfather James Workman moved with his family after the Civil War.  Some of these family members moved together to Nebraska in 1870 – John B. Workman, his wife Martha Ann Roberts, several of their adult children, Martha’s widowed sister Caroline, and Caroline’s daughter Mary (age 11).  Thomas Calvin Workman (my great-grandfather and the grandson of James Workman) and his wife Eddie joined John’s family in Nebraska sometime between 1880 and 1885.  Tom Eddie had two children in Illinois, but had lost both of them as infants.  The move to Nebraska must have seemed like an opportunity to leave their grief behind and start over.

I drew this chart to help me figure out the relationships among these people. The key players from this chart who went to Nebraska were John Butler Workman, his wife Martha, Martha’s sister Caroline (Carolyn), Caroline’s daughter Mary, and Thomas Calvin Workman, Sr. – John Workman’s 1st cousin 2x removed.  Tom and Mary married in Nebraska after Tom’s first wife died.

Tom and Eddie had two more children in Nebraska, but Eddie died shortly after the birth of their last child.  Mary, almost 30 years old and unmarried, cared for Eddie while she was ill and continued to care for the children after Eddie’s death in February of 1887.  It cannot have been a surprise when Tom married Mary eight months later, in November of 1887.  Tom and Mary had two children before they pulled up stakes and moved again.  John, Martha, and the rest of their family stayed in Nebraska.

This is a good time to insert a note about the difficulty of tracking the Workman family.  They were a prolific bunch, and they tended to move as an extended family group to the same locations over and over again.  The problem is compounded by the fact that they had lots of sons, which means that there were a whole bunch of people with the Workman surname in the locations where they lived.

This chart illustrates the problem:

These are just the men in my direct line — from my 8th great-grandfather Dirck Janse Woertman to my great-grandfather Thomas C. Workman.

Most of these boys also had lots of children.  As just one example, I looked at the family of John Butler Workman, a collateral ancestor of mine.  He was also a grandson of Jacob Workman and was a first cousin of James Workman in the chart above.  John Butler Workman was one of 22 children (16 were boys) born to Jacob’s fifth child John A. Workman.  John Butler Workman went on to have nine children — although only two of them were boys, which meant there were fewer Workman men around to pass on the name.

And of course there are only so many first names to go around, so I have lots of direct and collateral ancestors with the same names.  There are a lot of Workman men named James, Jacob, Abraham, John, Isaac, Stephen, and so forth.  Here’s a paragraph I wrote for another project that illustrates this problem:

In 1815, Abraham and Hannah moved to Kentucky, along with many other family members.  By that time, they had five children, including my 3rd great-grandfather James Workman (1806-1884) – not to be confused with my 4th great-uncle James Workman (1812-1878), my 5th great-uncle James Workman (1797-1850), my 2nd cousin 5x removed James Workman (1780-1864), my 1st cousin 4x removed James R. Workman (1830-1882), or my 2nd cousin 5x removed James Workman (1821-1904).  These men named James Workman all lived at roughly the same time in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, or Ohio.

Back to my main story.

Tom and Mary moved to Oklahoma – specifically, they participated in the first Oklahoma Land Run, which took place on April 22, 1889.  For those of you who don’t know this part of American history, the land run started at high noon on April 22, 1889, as an estimated 50,000 people were lined up at the start, seeking to gain a piece of the available two million acres.  Tom and Mary were waiting at the northern border in Kansas, about 300 miles south of John Workman’s homestead in Nebraska.  At the sound of a gun, wagons carrying families mingled with men on horseback to make their way to the land claims, which had been surveyed and marked prior to the run.  When the participants in the run got to a piece of land that appealed to them, they “claimed” it and sped off to the newly-established claims offices to register their claim while family members squatted on the land to protect it from newer arrivals.

The way the Oklahoma Land Run came about is complicated and would require going back to the 1830s to understand the series of treaties, land purchases, and wars that led to the events of 1889.  I’m not going to do a deep dive into this, but I’ll lay out some breadcrumbs.

 This map explains the situation by the 1880s.

You would think that getting free land would set you up for the rest of your life, wouldn’t you?  Tom was 35 years old and Mary was 30 when they made this move.  They had two children when they made the “run” in 1889, and expanded their family over the next 14 years, having eight more children, including my grandfather Thomas Calvin Workman, Jr., (1898-1973), who was their sixth child.

According to the 1910 census, Tom owned this land free and clear – but they moved away from Oklahoma in 1915.  I don’t know what the circumstances were that led them to move on, but here’s the newspaper advertisement documenting their decision to move away.  They were selling everything as well as providing a free lunch.  You can see my great-grandfather’s name at the bottom of the advertisement.

The family moved to El Campo, Texas – about 500 miles south of Logan County.  I can’t identify any family or obvious attraction leading them to make this move, but they went anyway.  The move itself was probably not too difficult – a train ran from Guthrie to El Campo during this time period.  My grandfather Tom married Susie Anthis in El Campo in 1919, and my mother was born there in 1921.

At the end of a family history book I wrote in 2018, I included this paragraph about what drove my ancestors to move west:

This is fundamentally a story about land.

Who owned it, how it was transferred, and what its practical and political meaning was.

How land created wealth and community and identified winners and losers.

In Illinois, it was the story of vast expanses of cheap or free farm land and the expected prosperity and community (as well as national prestige and power) this would engender.

From the Land Ordinance of 1785 through the Homestead Act of 1862 and beyond, the territories of the Old Northwest evolved from frontier communities to the states and established towns into which my ancestors were born in the second half of the century.

In Texas, it was the story of the expansion of “King Cotton” from the American South into a multi-ethnic society evolving on the border between Mexico and the United States, belonging to both countries and in some ways to neither country.

In Oklahoma, it was the story of the continuing quest for land by Americans whose desire for landed autonomy blinded them (and their government) to the genocide that had been, and continued to be, waged for centuries against the Indians.

The land.

No one in my family ever got free land again.  My mother’s family kept moving – to Tucson, Arizona, in 1931 – but they moved in with a relative who lived in the city and never returned to the farm.

Week 34: Timeline

This snip of an Ancestry tree shows the relationship between my 8th great-grandmother Catherine Madison (red circle) and her grand-nephew James Madison, the 4th president of the United States (green circle).  The surnames in this part of my family tree are among the most well-known in colonial Virginia history, and it was exciting to find this possible link.

While I was wandering around in the history of my family in colonial Virginia about six years ago, I came across what looked like a link to the Madison family.  I came across some evidence that suggested my 8th great-grandmother could be a women named Catherine Madison,.  My antennae went up:  Madison is a big name in Virginia history.  James Madison was the 4th President of the United States and his uncle, also named James Madison, was the President of the College of William and Mary from 1777 until his death in 1812.  My parents lived in Madison County, Virginia.  I had visited the Madison home in Orange County, Montpelier, several times while I was growing up in Virginia.  A connection to the Madison family would be cool.

The connection with the Madison family first appeared as I was researching a branch of my family that settled in the 1640s in Gloucester County, Virginia – not far from my home in Williamsburg on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay.  It appeared that my immigrant ancestors of this line, Thomas Todd and Anne Gorsuch, had a daughter named Isabella who married a man named John Madison II.  I was able to connect John to President Madison’s lineage; therefore, Catherine (the daughter of Isabella and John) was also related to President Madison.  And that means I was related to President Madison.  Pretty cool possibility, right?

This is where the timelines come in.  I couldn’t get the generations to fit.  Here’s the problem:

I have conflicting dates – and Catherine is the major problem.  If Catherine was born in 1683, as some records suggest, then Isabella probably wasn’t her mother – she would have been only 13 at the time.  But if Catherine was born in 1693, as other records suggest, William couldn’t have been her son, because Catherine would have been only 11 at the time.  Some online trees have fudged this by putting Catherine’s birthdate as 1683/1693, but that doesn’t really help.  Neither of these dates can be accurate if this lineage is to be proven.  She needs to have been born in between these dates – around 1688 or so – for this to work.  No records give 1688 as her birthdate.

Then I had to acknowledge the confusion about the dates of Catherine’s marriage.  All three of the possible marriage dates – 1700, 1703, and 1724 – are supported by some records, although the support is weak.  If she was born in 1693, she would not have been married in 1700 or even 1703.  But the 1724 marriage dates is way later than the birth dates of her “children,” including my ancestor William.

NOTE:  Records from colonial Virginia are notoriously sparse and unreliable. I knew this would be a problem as I tried to pin down this relationship.

Finding all of this out made me question what I “knew” about Catherine’s heritage.  I wanted her to be the daughter of Isabella Minor Todd, because that connection took me back to the Gorsuch family – a gateway ancestor to a signer of the Magna Carta.  But the more I looked into this, the more I came to recognize that I had a lot of questions about Isabella herself.  Todd family records – particularly wills – don’t identify a daughter named Isabella, and the ubiquitous inclusion of the middle name “Minor” was also confusing.  People were not routinely given middle names in the British colonies in the 17th century, so her name suggests that her birthname perhaps was “Minor” and that she had married a man with the “Todd” before she marries John Madison II. 

This, of course, presents another problem.  It always does.  There doesn’t appear to be a family named “Minor” in Virginia at the right time to have a daughter of Isabella’s age.

In exploring this question on a genealogy Facebook page a few years ago, I linked up with someone from central Virginia who had DNA connections with the Madisons.  I sent him my GEDMATCH kit number and he ran my DNA against his.  We were a match, so I’m definitely connected to the Madison family of Virginia, and probably through Catherine.  But until I can sort out who her parents were, I can’t connect with the Todd and Gorsuch families.

My conclusion:  even very simple timelines are a good way to document what you think you know in order to find out what you don’t know.  When you lay the stark facts out before your eyes, it’s hard to persist in believing something that “ain’t necessarily so.”

Week 31: Help

Facebook is a great source of help for genealogists.  Here’s the link to this list of genealogy Facebook pages https://moonswings.files.wordpress.com/2021/01/genealogy-on-facebook-jan-2021.pdf

Many of us use Facebook to share family pictures, inexplicable photos of unremarkable meals, cute pet pictures, and so forth.  Many of us also use it to share political views or fire insults into the universe.  However, Facebook can provide help for a variety of hobbies, including genealogy. This obviously does not come as a surprise to those of you who are reading this on Facebook.

I belong to more than 100 genealogy FB groups, although I don’t visit most of them regularly.  I joined them when I was researching a specific location, surname, or historical era, and then didn’t unjoin them when my research moved on.

Here are a few examples of how this has worked for me:

I posted this query on July 29, 1917

Within a couple of hours, here’s the response I received, along with my reaction to it:

Here’s another thread from a couple of years ago:

And here’s an example of how group members can “pay back” for the assistance they’ve received.

Here’s one of the responses I received to this post:

We all like to feel smart.  We also like to be appreciated.  I have found that genealogists are very generous with their time to help other researchers, because they know how much they have appreciated the help they’ve received in the past.  The Facebook hive-mind is very knowledgeable and they LOVE to share what they’ve learned.

Week 24: Popular Name

The most popular woman’s name among my direct ancestors is Mary; with its variants Marie and Maria, there are 152 women with this name.  The most popular man’s name is Thomas – there are 86 of them.  The most popular surname is Wilson – 16 people have this surname.  There is no one named Mary Wilson or Thomas Wilson in my tree.

(Note:  I have 10, 621 people in my main tree; when I sort for Direct Ancestors only, I have 1,471. The information in this essay focuses on my Direct Ancestors only.)

I figured this out today by sorting my family tree Excel spreadsheet and counting rows.  It’s not hard to create this spreadsheet:

  1. Download your GEDCOM from Ancestry
  2. Upload it to Family Tree Analyzer (this is a free program).  I know there are other programs that allow you to do this, but none of them are free so far as I know.
  3. Export the FTA spreadsheet to Excel
  4. Select columns and sort as you wish

The steps in this process are a little more fiddly than this, but it’s pretty easy.

Here’s how often names occur in my Direct Ancestors tree:

Here are my most popular surnames:

I expected some of these surnames to be on this list – my maiden name was Arnold, my mother’s maiden name was Workman, for example.  But some of the names surprised me – I recognize all of the names, but there are several in double digits – Wilson, Wheeler, Anderson, Brown, Potter, and Wilcox – that I knew were significant but I didn’t realize how significant.  This gives me something to focus on – I need to find out if there are surname studies for these particular names that might move my research forward.

So I know this post is focused on Popular Names, but here are some other things I was able to find out by looking at my spreadsheet:

My tree looks pretty complete through my 3rd great-grandparents; beyond that, I have lots of room to grow.  I chuckle when people say they are “finished” with their family tree.  I have  lots to do.

And there’s more:

  • Five of my Direct Ancestors lived to be 100 years old
  • I have 62 Direct Ancestors who lived to be 90
  • I have 27 Direct Ancestors who had more than 20 children
  • I have 26 Direct Ancestors who married more than three times.

All of these observations suggest possible research projects.  Who was having all of these children?  Who was marrying over and over again? 

My research will never be done.

Week 23: Mistake

We all understand the concept of learning from our mistakes.  I have found this to be particularly useful as I get more deeply involved in genealogical research.

Like everyone else, I made a lot of mistakes when I started doing genealogy research:

  • I accepted hints without verifying them.  It was great fun.  It left me with a lot of work to do when I realized my errors. 
    • What I learned from this mistake:  it was okay.  I see a lot of advice from experienced genealogists to newbies along the lines of “always verify your sources before you do anything else” and I think that if I had done this, it wouldn’t have been as much fun.  And if it wasn’t fun, I probably wouldn’t have stuck with it.  The wild ride of tracing my ancestors back to the Mayflower or Jamestown or William the Conqueror or Charlemagne was exhilarating.  And so what if I had to undo it?  I’m retired.  I have time.  The feeling of that thrill stuck with me and motivated me through the dull times.
  • I didn’t maintain a research log.  That was boring.  It was a lot more fun to click my way down a rabbit hole, not knowing how I got there and thus not knowing how to get back.
    • What I learned from this mistake: it was also okay.  Once again, I was having fun while I was learning better ways of doing things.  I figured out how to dig my way out of rabbit holes because I was in a rabbit hole.  That’s motivating.  I’m still not very good at keeping research logs, but I forgive myself for that.  I’m not going to get fired for doing it wrong – I’m retired.
  • I didn’t have very clear research goals at first.  I didn’t know that I needed a research goal.  I was just clicking away, building my tree, not sure where I was going.
    • What I learned from this mistake:  it was also okay. Are you beginning to see a theme here?  Once I had a shaky “wiring diagram” in place – births, marriages, and deaths for a significant number of generations, I began to think about what I wanted to do with this information.  I began to create what teachers call SMART objectives – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely.  I needed some raw data before I could begin to figure out meaningful goals.
  • I hesitated to put my research and writing “out there” for all to see when I knew there were errors in it.  But now my tree is public and I also write a blog that is publicly available. That means people can see my mistakes.  I try to identify any uncertainty I have about my information so that people don’t just copy it, errors and all.  I risked negative and even hostile responses.
    • What I learned from this mistake:  it was also okay.  I realized that almost no one was paying me anywhere near enough attention to point out when I was wrong.  When someone corrected me, it was almost always done kindly.  I ignored the few jerks who apparently had decided that their main function in life was to take me down a peg or two.  I have time – like I said, I’m retired – but I don’t choose to spend my time engaging with idiots.
  • I frequently failed at using technology that was new to me.  I have misused – sometimes spectacularly – Chrome extensions, excel spreadsheets, photo editing software, Microsoft Word hacks, Internet search techniques, genealogy websites, and self-publishing sites.  You name it, I have screwed it up in some fashion.
    • What I learned from these mistakes:  you know the answer by now – it was okay.  I didn’t break the Internet.  If I lost information, I found new ways of retrieving it.  I learned the value of saving and backing up my research and writing.  Sometimes the lessons were costly – not often in money but frequently in time.  See above – I’m retired, I have time.

I could go on but I won’t.  The bottom line is that the mistakes I make teach me a lot.  I learned the value of verifying hints because I got a little tired of rabbit holes.  I learned the value of a research log (well, kinda learned it) when I found myself revisiting sites I had already researched.  I learned the value of research goals when I found myself wandering aimlessly around without goals.  I learned the value of making my research and writing public when I began to receive kudos along with gentle corrections.  I learned the value of using new technology when I realized that using it made my research and writing better and easier.

All in all, I recommend mistakes.  Fear of them is paralyzing.   Many philosophers have been credited with a sentiment along the lines of “the best is the enemy of good enough.”  We’re never very good at something when we do it for the first time.  If we decide against doing something because we fear failure, we won’t do anything. 

Go for it. 

Week 22: Conflict

Several of my ancestors who took part in King Philip’s War were at the Great Swamp Fight in December of 1675 Source: Wikipedia

This topic made me think initially of major wars that my ancestors have fought in – the American Revolution, The Civil War, World War I, World War II – but I decided instead to write about my ancestors’ involvement in a lesser-known war, King Philip’s War.  This war, fought in 1675-1676, was between the English settlers in Massachusetts and the Native Americans in the region – primarily, the Wampanoag tribe.  This war is often described as the bloodiest war per capita in US history.  Hundreds of settlers were killed and thousands of Indians were killed, wounded or captured and sold into slavery or indentured servitude. The war decimated the Narragansett, Wampanoag, and many smaller tribes and mostly ended Indian resistance in southern New England, paving the way for additional English settlements.

For those of you not in the United States – or for Americans who haven’t researched early Massachusetts history recently – let me give you a little background on this war.  I have taken this information from the online Encyclopedia of Boston (https://bostonresearchcenter.org/projects_files/eob/single-entry-executions.html ), a website that is full of information about the history of Boston and the surrounding area.  Here’s the story told on this website: 

“Tensions between colonists and Wampanoags had mounted in the early 1670s, as Indians became frustrated with colonists’ attempts to convert tribal members to Christianity. Native Americans also objected to colonists’ interference with Native agricultural practices and outright seizure of land Native Americans considered theirs. These tensions erupted into violence when white colonists accused Wampanoags of murdering John Sassamon, a praying Indian (the colonists’ term for Indians who converted to Christianity). Colonists’ subsequent retribution for this murder is generally acknowledged as the start of the War.

“Beginning in June 1675, Narragansetts, Pocumtucks, Nipmucs, and Wampanoags fought the English, Pequots, Mohegans, and other native tribes. Conflict was close, cruel, and bloody. The war began to subside in August 1676, when King Philip was shot dead in Bristol, Rhode Island by an Indian allied with the British. After his death, white colonists mutilated his body, distributing and publicly displaying its parts in gruesome celebration. Philip’s head was displayed on a tall pole in the town of Plymouth for decades after his death in an effort to intimidate other Indians, and to warn them of what might happen to those who resisted colonists. Isolated skirmishes continued after Philip’s death. Dozens of Philip’s allies were subsequently executed on Boston Common.

“Those executed in 1676 included Matoonas, a sachem of the Nipmuc people who played a decisive role in King Philip’s War. Though a Christian convert, Matoonas turned against the English colonists after his son was beheaded in 1671 on questionable charges. Matoonas was tied to a tree, shot, and beheaded. Colonists placed his head on a pike, just as they had done with his executed son’s head five years earlier. At least fifty other native people were shot or hanged on the Common that year. Some were praying Indians, including Old Jethro, whose son handed him to the English, and Captain Tom, a captive of Philip’s troops. Though Captain Tom’s execution was appealed on the grounds that he was not an aggressor in the war, he was executed nonetheless.

“Many of those executed had been promised clemency by the English. After surrendering in Rhode Island in 1676, Potuck, a Narragansett sachem, had been promised safe passage by the English colonists. Instead, he was brought to Boston Common and shot. Indian John Monoco and two Nipmuc sachems, Muttawump and Sagamore Sam, were also assured pardons, transported to Boston, then executed without trial. Those not executed were sold into slavery in the Caribbean.

“White colonists carried out these public executions as retribution, as well as a warning to Indians interfering with what colonists believed was their God-given destiny to take Indian land and convert Indian souls. These executions served as one of the opening salvos in a centuries-long violent assault on Indians by white colonists and, later on, Americans.”

According to the website “Walk Boston History” (https://www.walkbostonhistory.com/king-philip.html), the following statistics summarize the final outcome of this war:

  • 54 major engagements over 13 months
  • 600 English died
  • 1200 homes burned
  • 12 of 90 settlements destroyed
  • 2,000 Indians killed
  • 3,000 Indians died in captivity of illness or starvation
  • 4,000 Indians sold into slavery
  • 8,000 head of cattle killed
  • 50 years for the region to recover economically
This map shows the locations of major action in this war.  To orient people who may not know this geography, Plymouth,  Boston, and all of the sites to the west are in the modern state of Massachusetts.  Providence and the sites south and immediately west of it are in the modern state of Rhode Island.  Norwich and everything to the west are in the modern state of Connecticut.

My ancestors were living all over New England by the time of this conflict.  Most of them had arrived during the Puritan Great Migration, between 1630 and 1640.  From their earliest settlements along the coast, they have moved west and north along the river systems to settle the interior frontier regions.

Lt. John Marchant1625-1693Barnstable, MAEnsign of Yarmouth Company, June 8, 1664. Lieutenant of the Military Company in Yarmouth, August 11, 1670
Richard Swan1607-1668Rowley, MAGreat Swamp Fight
Nathaniel Dickinson1601-1676Hadley, MANathaniel was an original member of the Hampshire Troop, organized in March 1663/4 under Capt. John Pynchon. During King Philip’s War, 1675-77, Nathaniel lost three sons – John, Joseph, and Azariah. Another son, Obadiah, was captured by the Indians and taken into Canada but escaped and returned in 1679
Lt. Thomas Newhall1653-1728Lynn, MAWith Major Willard in 1676  The Major led the relief at the Battle of Brookfield (part of King Philips War). He remained there and at Hadley for a few weeks
John Babcock1644-1684Westerly, RICaptain of militia John Volunteered with the Connecticut Militia, which was organized for protection against the Indians; that in King Philip’s War he was with the Connecticut Militia in the “Great Swamp Fight”, Dec. 19, 1675, and that his son Elihu was born at that time.
John Crandall1617-1676Westerly, RIHe moved to Newport, RI, because of King Philip’s War
I can document six ancestors who participated in this war.

My ancestors Richard Swan,  Nathaniel Dickinson, John Babcock, and John Crandall were involved in the Great Swamp Fight (marked by the red star), one of the major engagements of this war. Source: https://familytiesandconnections.blogspot.com/2017/11/the-great-swamp-fight.html

Here’s a little bit of information about each of my ancestors who fought in this war or whose families were directly impacted by it.

Lt. John Marchant IV

My paternal 8th great-grandfather John Marchant IV (1625-1693) was born in Sussex, England, and came with his parents to Yarmouth in Barnstable County, Massachusetts, in 1638.  He married a woman named Sarah in Yarmouth in 1646, and they had 10 children before moving to the island of Martha’s Vineyard late in life.  I am descended from two of the children of John and Sarah – Prince Pease, the great-grandson of their daughter Sarah, married Martha Marchant, the granddaughter of their son Abishai, on Martha’s Vineyard in 1750.

Richard Swan

My paternal 9th great-grandfather Richard Swan (1607-1678) was born in East Riding, Yorkshire, and came to Massachusetts with his wife and children in 1638, possibly with the party of Ezekiel Rogers.  He was one of the founders of Rowley, Massachusetts, and was a prominent citizen there.  He owned several lots of land in the town, often served on juries in Essex County, and was chosen overseer of highways, gates, and fences there in 1648.  He was chosen selectman for Rowley in 1652, 1662, and1664.  He was constable in 1665 and deputy to the General Court in 1666 and 1667.  He appeared as a defendant in Ipswich Court in 1650 for “breach of Peace” for striking Ezekiell Northern in the face with a staff and was fined three shillings.  I am descended from his son Robert.

Nathaniel Dickinson

My paternal 11th great-grandfather Nathaniel Dickinson (1601-1676) was born in Ely in Cambridgeshire, England.  After marrying in 1629, he and his family set sail for Massachusetts as part of the Winthrop Fleet.  He settled in Watertown for a few years, and then moved to Wethersfield, Connecticut, by 1635.  He served in many official positions in Wethersfield, including on the Board of Selectman, Representative to the General Assembly, and deacon of the church.  He helped survey and lay out the land allotments in the town, and owned several lots himself.  After a religious dispute in Wethersfield, he moved with other dissenters to Hadley, Massachusetts, about 50 miles up the Connecticut River.  Although Nathaniel was too advanced in years to serve in the military during King Philip’s war himself, three of his sons – John, Joseph, and Azariah – were killed in this war.  The house of a fourth son, Obadiah, was burned by the Native Americans during this conflict, his wife was either killed or wounded, and Obadiah and one of his children were taken prisoner and removed to Canada.  I am descended from Nathaniel’s son Nathaniel, who also participated in this war.

Lt. Thomas Newhall

My 9th great-grandfather Thomas Newhall (1653-1728) was born in Lynn, Massachusetts to parents who had been in Massachusetts since 1630.  His father, also named Thomas, is often identified as “the first white child born in Lynn,” although that claim is now held in some doubt.  Thomas moved to the town of Malden after marrying Rebecca Greene there in 1674.  Along with many other men of the town, he served in the military during King Philip’s War in 1676, serving with Major Willard.  He is described as attaining the rank of Lieutenant.

Malden Town records also document him as an important land-holder, holding various public positions in the town.  Records for the town prior to King Philip’s War were destroyed, but the earliest remaining records talk about naming townsmen to serve as selectmen, constables, and (to quote one of the town records), “last, though not least, perhaps, in the body-politic, those whose office it was ‘to see to swine order,’ – the hog-constables.”  Thomas was a hog-constable.  I descend from Thomas through his first son, also named Thomas.

John Babcock

My 8th great-grandfather John Babcock (1644-1684) was born in Portsmouth, Rhode Island.  His father, James, fled with his family from Essex County, England, to Leyden, Holland, in 1620, and then came to Massachusetts on the Ann in 1623.  By 1638, the family had settled in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, where John was born in 1644.  John married Mary Lawton in Westerly, Rhode Island (a town founded by John’s father James), in 1662.   

Tradition tells a romantic story about John and Mary.  According to the legend, John and Mary eloped from Newport and settled in what would become Westerly, where they remained undiscovered by their parents for several months.  This legend identifies them as the first white settlers of Westerly.  There is, unfortunately, no evidence proving this tale.  But it’s a good story anyway.

This marker, in Westerly Cemetery 7, displays the legend of John and Mary. Source:  Wikitree.com entry for John Babcock.

What can be proven is that 16-year-old John was part of the company of men who settled Westerly in 1660.  In 1675, when King Philip’s War broke out and many settlers in Westerly fled to eastern Rhode Island for safety, John and his family stayed in the settlement.  By this time, John and Mary had six children.  John had volunteered to serve with the Connecticut militia (ownership of Westerly was disputed between Connecticut and Rhode Island until 1728), and participated in the “Great Swamp fight” on December 19, 1675 – the date of the birth of his seventh child, Elihu.  After King Philip’s War was over, John filled a number of public positions in Westerly, including “conservator of the peace” (sort of an early police force) and Deputy from Westerly to the colonial legislature in 1682 and 1684. 

John Crandall

My 9th great-grandfather John Crandall (1617-1676) was born in England and probably came to Massachusetts in 1634, settling in Salem and serving as a minister there.  However, his support of the Baptists led to his dismissal from that church in 1637 and his move to Newport.  He relocated to Westerly, in Washington County, somewhere around 1660, and is identified as a founder of that town.

Here’s a little bit about John:

A Baptist and later a Seventh Day Baptist, John and several companions were arrested at Lynn (in Essex County near Boston) on July 21,1651 and were imprisoned at Boston.  All three men were fined and publicly whipped for their “attachment to the Baptist cause.” In 1660, John was one of a group of five investors who purchased a land grant known as Misquamicuck (later Westerly, RI).  After several years of boundary and jurisdiction disputes, the town of Westerly was incorporated; John Crandall’s is the first name on the list of freeholders of the town in 1669.  He became the first elder and preacher in Westerly.

On 21 May 1669, the Governor and Council of Rhode Island appointed six men as Conservators of the Peace for the Colony. The men were assigned to geographic areas in pairs, the first of the pair to also act as coroner for their area. John Crandall and Tobias Saunders were appointed as justices at Misquamicut, with John likely acting as coroner.   John is also listed as a deputy representative of Westerly in the General Assembly in both 1670 and 1671.

John married a woman named Mary in 1649, although I’m not sure of Mary’s last name.  John died in Newport in 1676; this is a little hard to understand, as he was clearly living in Westerly at the time.  Some sources suggest that he had temporarily relocated to Newport to escape the violence of King Philip’s War, while others suggest that he was wounded in the 1675 Great Swamp Fight in West Kingston, Rhode Island (about 20 miles from Westerly).   He is buried in a family cemetery located near the Crandall homestead in Westerly.

In Conclusion

I have written about all of these folks before, in other contexts.  But it’s always enjoyable to catch up with old friends.  Until I grouped these individuals for this essay, I didn’t realize that so many of them had participated in the Great Swamp Fight.  Who knew?

Week 21: Yearbook

Unlike many previous weeks, I immediately knew what to write about when I saw this week’s prompt. 

After graduating from Tucson High School in 1939, my mother Violet H. Workman attended the University of Arizona for one year before she married my father, Lloyd C. Arnold, on December 28, 1940.  I have her 1940 college yearbook, which documents her year at the university.  I didn’t think to look at any other year, because I knew – or thought I knew – that she only attended the school for one year.

So imagine my surprise a couple of years ago when I got a hint on Ancestry.com about her in the 1942 yearbook.  Had she gone to school a second or even third year and never talked about it?

The picture above tells the story.  I knew she had worked for the Dean of Women at the University of Arizona during the two years after she married, but it never occurred to me that her picture would be in the yearbook.  Not only was she in the yearbook, but she was also identified by name in a blurb about the university’s administration.  So-called “candid” photos like this one frequently identify the high-profile person – in this case, the Dean of Women – and don’t identify anyone else in the picture.  It probably didn’t hurt that my mother was very pretty.

This simple picture is the only documentation I have of my parents’ early married life. Within a year of this photo being taken, my parents had moved across the county (to Arlington, Virginia, in the suburbs of Washington, DC). My father, who was draft-exempt because of pleurisy, had been working for the Veterans Administration in Tucson, but got a better job in Arlington. So they moved. In 1944, my father’s draft exemption expired and he was almost immediately called into military service. When he got out of the Navy in 1946, he had a job waiting for him, as the Navy had promised. But it was in Arlington, the place where he had lived when he was drafted. My parents, who intended to live in Virginia for just a few years, ended up spending the rest of their lives there. It’s where my siblings and I were born and where I have lived my whole life.

The lesson for me is to broaden the perimeter of my searches a little.  Look in the years before or after my focus year.  Look outside of the towns or cities where I think my ancestors lived.  Be open to surprises.