Category Archives: American History

Lost but not forgotten

A Kearny Cross, courtesy of Bob Velke.

“The legacy of heroes is the memory of a great name and the inheritance of a great example.” ~ Benjamin Disraeli

Somewhere out on that big blue horizon, under a Rocky Mountains moon, there is a soldier’s grave – or at least so my family thinks. His name was John E. Lee, and he was attached to Company G in Michigan’s Fighting Fifth” during America’s Civil War. He enlisted in 1861, and served for the war’s duration. He fought at Chancellorsville and was awarded the Kearny Cross for bravery.[i] Wounded at Gettysburg, he was a prisoner of war in the overflow camps of Andersonville – from which he escaped.[ii] Continue reading Lost but not forgotten

‘All honour & respect’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
By the fall of 1864, hints of the ultimate outcome of the American Civil War could be discerned. For Regina Shober Gray,[1] the period was also marked by worry about her family members’ health; she looked for consolation to the minister of King’s Chapel,[2] and did not always find it.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 23 October 1864: A splendid autumn day – Mary & Frank [Gray][3] are at church and the younger boys[4] I have just sent off for a walk – they are none of them right well. It is distressing to see the healths run down, as soon as school begins; and yet we do not let them over work there; and if we keep them away from school the time hangs so very heavy on their hands… Continue reading ‘All honour & respect’

That which we inherit

The John Record family in 1907.

It was late one summer, sometime toward the end of the last century, when I received the call. The voice on the other end of the line was that of a woman in the throes of Alzheimer’s disease. Her name was Barbara, and she was pleading with me to “come and get these things.”[i]

Now Barbara wasn’t just anybody to me. She was our “go-to” family historian from the 1960s well into the early 1990s. Cousin Barbara (my grandfather’s paternal first cousin) was the one to call when some question about the family’s facts or folklore arose. I can still hear my grandmother saying, “I don’t know the answer. You need to call Barbara…” To this day I still rely heavily on Barbara’s original and painstakingly completed research. Continue reading That which we inherit

Heroine of the Battle Road

Ruins of the central chimney of the Hartwell house in Lincoln. Photo by Jet Lowe. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

While perusing the shelves at a local book sale several months ago, I came across a small volume that would ultimately help to broaden my understanding of a seminal event in American history. The title of the book – Heroine of the Battle Road, Mary Flint Hartwell – caught my attention and interest. As an enthusiast of Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts history, I was familiar with the phrase “Battle Road”– likely a reference to the famous march of the British army from Boston through Lexington to seize powder and arms in Concord the night of 19 April 1775.

My suspicions were confirmed when I read the subtitle:  A Drama of One Woman’s Courage on the Night of Paul Revere’s Ride in April of 1775. Having read several books on the famous skirmishes at Lexington and Concord I was curious why I had never heard of Mary Flint Hartwell.  By purchasing the book, I hoped to find out more.

Continue reading Heroine of the Battle Road

The Jeremiah Lee Mansion

The Jeremiah Lee Mansion is located in the beautiful seaside town of Marblehead, Massachusetts. Jeremiah Lee – a merchant and ship owner, and one of the wealthiest men in the American colonies – built his mansion several years before the start of the American Revolution. This architectural and historic gem has survived largely unchanged from when it was built. A tour of the mansion offers visitors not only a glimpse into life in the mid-1770s, but also an understanding of what Lee, a true patriot, was willing to risk for the cause of freedom. Continue reading The Jeremiah Lee Mansion

Bye-bye-bye

Following up on correcting the charts in my Seeing double blog post, the chart showing my ancestor Anna (Salisbury) Slade was a recent disappointment and involved removing some ancestors from my charts. The chart identified Anna’s parents as Daniel Salisbury and Anna Hale, and had Anna as the child of Rev. Moses Hale (Harvard 1699) and Mary Moody of Newbury, with several early Newbury ancestors including Henry and Jane (Dummer) Sewall, who were the parents of Judge Samuel Sewall (1652–1730), known for his involvement in the Salem witch trials. Continue reading Bye-bye-bye

Gone to California

Over the course of many years exploring the history of my family, one man has always eluded me. His name was Andrew Taylor Tompkins, and he was my great-great-great-great-grandfather. Many of the facts of Andrew’s early life are known with certainty. He was born 17 February 1808 in Little Compton, Rhode Island, to Uriah Tompkins and Mary Taylor.[1] Andrew married Harriet Arnold Dillingham, the daughter of Captain Edward Dillingham (a descendant of Edward Dillingham, one of the early founders of Sandwich, Massachusetts) and Susannah Sherman, on 20 August 1834 in New Bedford, Massachusetts.[2] Andrew and Harriet had five children, the first of whom was Ellen Hughes (Tompkins) Luther, my ancestor. Continue reading Gone to California

Seeing double

Another example of correcting mistakes on my family charts came in the example of “seeing double,” where there appeared to be two generations with the exact same names, which can often, but not always, be a sign something is not quite right.

In this case my great-grandfather’s great-grandmother Abigail (Slade) Fitts (1777–1874) of Ashford, Connecticut, was identified as the daughter of Jonathan Slade and Anna Salisbury. Their ancestors were continued on charts 12 and 13. However on chart 12, Jonathan Slade is also identified as a son of Jonathan Slade and Anna Salisbury. Was this really true? In this case, no. Continue reading Seeing double

What’s left behind

Facts can be so unsatisfying. Colorless (but critical) records of lives, people, places, and events, when facts are viewed in the context of heirlooms, memorabilia, or artifacts, things left behind by our ancestors, our past is better illuminated and gives us insight into older generations, providing a foundation for family stories. Readers of my posts on Vita Brevis will recognize my pursuit of and passion for those stories. Whether the facts give rise to the stories, or whether the stories begin by seeking the underlying facts, is something of a chicken-or-the-egg question, a fractal of genealogical research, repeating and replicating patterns of family interactions and history. Continue reading What’s left behind

‘A very serious thing indeed!’

[Author’s note: This series, on Mrs. Gray’s reading habits, began here.]

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
After a summer holiday in Manchester, the Grays[1] were back in Boston. The engagement of a family friend reminded Mrs. Gray of some of the undercurrents which must have swirled unnoticed about her own engagement in 1844:

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 11 September 1864: A dull lowering day has settled into a steady rain – so we shall probably not get out to “The Pines”[2] tomorrow, as proposed, to dine – for which I am sorry. I want to go myself, and I want Sue [Shober][3] to see the place & house. I hear it is handsome and commodious enough within, to amply compensate its outward unsightliness – which is saying a good word for its accommodations certainly, as externally the house does not satisfy the eye at all. Continue reading ‘A very serious thing indeed!’