Monthly Archives: November 2017

An interesting dinner party

Lieut. Colonel Richard Cary by Charles Willson Peale, 1776, wearing the green sash denoting his service as aide de camp to George Washington.

A previous post about former President John Quincy Adams and his son visiting Nantucket listed their dining partners at a meal in the tiny village of Siasconset, on the eastern edge of the island. Most were family members of the inn’s proprietress, Betsey Cary, and all but one could conclusively be identified as island residents or relatives. The only nebulous person (and he would really love that term!) was R. T. Paine. After going down various rabbit holes trying to determine who he was, I gave up … but editor Scott Steward came up with a likely candidate: Robert Treat Paine (1803–1885).

In his own right, this gentleman was an attorney of some prominence, with a passion for astronomy and meteorology; at his death he left an “astronomical” endowment to Harvard for that purpose. His own accomplishments, however, were overshadowed by those of his father, a brilliant poet[1] … and most especially by the grandfather for whom he was named. Continue reading An interesting dinner party

Even unto death

There is a family story that is slowly becoming legend as the generations pass. When the mood turns nostalgic and sentimental at family gatherings, someone will inevitably tell the story of the Sages and the train.

The story tells how my great-great-great-grandparents, James Sage and Sally Hastings, died at the same moment on 8 March 1914, when they were struck by a train in Libertyville, Illinois. They were returning home from visiting their son, who had just dropped them off at the station. As the train arrived, they attempted to cross the tracks to the far platform, but did not succeed. It is not surprising that they were unable to make it quickly across the tracks, for they were elderly, 79 and 77. It is also not surprising that they attempted it, too, as James Sage had been foolish around a train at least once before, losing a foot some years earlier, also in a train accident. Continue reading Even unto death

Dower vs. inheritance

After my previous post, the question came up about whether a widow’s dower right in her husband’s property is an “inheritance,” since, as we traditionally see the term being used in seventeenth-century New England, it is held only for the widow’s lifetime and reverts to her children on her death.

However, I found the following on Wikipedia: “Usually, the wife was free from kin limitations to use (and bequeath) her dower to whatever and whomever she pleased. It may have become the property of her next marriage, been given to an ecclesiastical institution, or been inherited by her children from other relationships than that from which she received it.” Continue reading Dower vs. inheritance

Things lost and found

As a member of my local historic preservation commission, as well as my family’s de facto family historian and custodian of All Things Family Memorabilia, I often encounter the decision of what to preserve, what to donate or sell, and what to demolish. Historic preservation of buildings is a complex and sometimes contentious topic best left for other writers. But what about all those smaller treasures our ancestors left for us, assuming that we would value them, cherish them, and preserve them as they had (even if we don’t know what or who they are)? Continue reading Things lost and found

‘To the light at last’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
The Confederate army was in full flight, with repercussions as far north as Cambridge, Massachusetts. Yet even in triumph there were intimations of some fresh disaster; reading the penultimate paragraph in the diarist’s[1] 10 April entry sends chills:

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Tuesday, 4 April 1865: Frank [Gray][2] has just come in – all lectures and recitations are suspended to day at Harvard in honor of the taking of Richmond. The students had a great excitement yesterday on receiving the news and were allowed to cut recitations for the rest of the day. This morning after prayers, President Hill[3] made a short address and dismissed them as he said to “meditate for the day” on this great blessing – whereupon they all adjourned to the green, sang Old Hundred[4] with vim, and after some cheering, scattered. The public schools yesterday were dismissed at once on reception of the news. To-day there will be a great meeting in Faneuil Hall[5] – ah! how the great “golden-mouthed” orator Ed. Everett[6] will be missed there. How he would have thrilled all hearts to-day; and my poor brother John,[7] how this news would have gladdened his heart! Continue reading ‘To the light at last’

“Mother Cary”

“Mother Cary” (Betsey Swain Cary) as drawn in 1860 by David Hunter Strother under his nom de plume “Porte Crayon.”

A while back, I wrote about the hotel in Marshalltown, Iowa run by my great-great-great-grandparents, which I like to fantasize might have been called “Hotel California.” The Shaws were not the only branch of my family to provide public accommodations.

After her husband[1] died in China in 1812, Betsey (Swain) Cary[2] operated a hotel called Washington House on Nantucket’s Main Street; her lodging book is in the collections of the Nantucket Historical Association, and lists guests from 1816 through 1829. On 22 August 1831, she sold Washington House to her brother-in-law, my great-great-great-great-grandfather,[3] who turned day-to-day operations over to the town sheriff, Elisha Starbuck.[4] Continue reading “Mother Cary”

Reverse dower

From a modern perspective, we might think that women had no legal rights in the “old” days, but there actually were many ways in which women were legally protected. For example, husbands could not abandon wives and families (although one had to catch the husband to make him pay up). Another right that we regularly see is the right of dower given to the wife: she was entitled to inherit one third of her husband’s estate, no matter what he might have thought about it. This right is often expressed in land records when the husband sells land and the wife “releases” her dower rights to the property. Not all deeds include this release, but the right was there and the transaction could later be contested without it. Continue reading Reverse dower

Oh! Susanna!

The graves of Stephen and Rebecca Andrews, who held the bond for Susanna’s sons Thomas, John, and George. Courtesy of findagrave.com contributor Judith Richards No. 47139138.

“Oh! Susanna…” No, thankfully, not Mr. Foster’s “Susanna”![1] Rather, this particular “Susanna” is one who has been bound up in the ‘primordial soup’ of my Chesapeake Bay ancestry for (at least) the last six generations. The identity of my Susanna has only come to light within the last several years. No one had ever heard of her before. She had been all but forgotten – since her death in 1863.[2]

Oddly, the most evident clue that Susanna ever lived at all was hidden in plain sight. Her son, my great-great-grandfather John Henry Record,[3] completed his pension application stating that his father had died when he was four years old – an event which coincided with his being “bound out.”[4] He wrote these statements in the 1890s, and reading his words through the years it was generally assumed (given these terrible circumstances for a four-year-old boy) that his mother must have also been deceased at that date. In fact she was not. Continue reading Oh! Susanna!

‘I was much amazed’

Elizabeth (____) Sturgis’s letter, in the Winthrop Family Papers, 1537-1990, at the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Captain Daniel Patrick was a well-known and powerful figure in the Massachusetts Bay Colony of 1640. He had been a “common soldier in the Prince’s guard” in Holland, and that experience was sufficient for him to be appointed Captain of Militia in Massachusetts Bay. He commanded 40 soldiers in the Pequot War, and he and his company were notable for executing the “fighting age” Pequot male prisoners captured near present-day Ledyard, Connecticut, on 5 July 1637. Captain Patrick was clearly a formidable character.

He was also a well-known philanderer and eventually departed the colony: “For though he had a wife of his own, a good Dutch woman and comely, yet he despised her and followed after other women and perceiving that he was discovered, and that such evil courses would not be endured here, and being of a vain and unsettled disposition, he went from us… ” Continue reading ‘I was much amazed’

Listen and learn

November is National Podcast Month, so this is the perfect month to share some favorite podcasts. Typically, a podcast is an episodic audio (sometimes video) program that can be downloaded online. Think of these as a form of talk radio in which you can choose when to tune in. The topics of the programming varies widely, so there are many that are useful and interesting to us as family historians.

Continue reading Listen and learn