Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Uncle Robert writes to Aunt Nellie with help of daughter Florence

Robert Fletcher Richardson II when he was in his 50's. 
Robert Fletcher II was named for his paternal grandfather, also Robert Fletcher Richardson.
His father was Robert A. Richardson -- no Fletcher, so the name skipped a generation.
I would love to know where the Fletcher name came from!  This is a transcription of a letter.
Waterbury, VT, Jan 5, 1921
My Dear Aunt:
            Father was much pleased to get your letter and I will write for him as his hand trembles so he can’t write lately.  Don’t know when you heard from him last.  He went out to Washington [VT] a few weeks last summer.  My girl kept house for him, then he decided to come back here and stay.  Can only walk a few steps with crutches.  Early in the Fall he had a very sick spell but is a good deal better now. He stays in bed most of the time for he naps.  His hip pains him less when he lays quiet than when he even sits up.     
            He says his eyes are not as good as a little while ago but I think they are wonderful for one of his age for he reads his daily paper and about two library books a week.  Just sits up in bed with pillows back of him.
            Tell Ella I received her card. Wish I might know her and the rest of my unknown relatives out your way. We haven’t heard from Aunt Julia for over a year.  Then she was very poorly and living with Fred’s wife.
            Father says tell you that he was 88 years old last September.  Think you must have forgotten his age by this time.  It has been very warm so far this winter for which I am very glad as it takes less wood and is better for me to be out.  I have so much barn work to see to every day.
                                                Your loving niece,
                                                            Florence Wallace
Florence Ida Richardson was the youngest of the five children born to Robert Fletcher Richardson II and Rosetta Dexter Richardson.  Florence was born on March 2, 1875 in Washington, Vermont.  Florence married James Moses Wallace and they lived in Waterbury, VT. At the time of this photo, taken on the occasion of her parents 50th wedding anniversary in 1907, they already had four of their seven children. Their eldest, their daughter Lelia, was sitting in front of her grandparents when the photo was taken and is not in this photo.  The ones in the photo are their first three boys, Robert, William and George.  Many thanks to my cousin Barb for this photo!  Florence was about 32 years old when this photo was taken and in her mid-40's when she penned this letter for her father.  Her husband had died in October of 1918 a little over two years before.  His death certificate notes that he died of Influenza and pneumonia. 
It appears he was one of the victims of the severe flu pandemic of 1918. 
This is Florence when she was a little girl.
The recipient of this missive was the youngest and the only remaining of Robert's siblings, his sister Eva Irene Richardson.  Eva married George Thompson and was always known as Nellie from that time on.  Nellie was also born in Topsham, Vermont and later lived in the Dakota Territory and later  yet in the Washington Territory in the Palouse.  When her husband died she returned to Wisconsin to live near her niece,  Ella Jane Stevens Sherwood. It took quite a while to figure out that Nellie and Eva were the same person as she was referred to as Eva almost exclusively when young and then as an older adult was  always Nellie.  At the time this was written, Robert and Nellie were the only two siblings left of the original eight.  

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Searching for Grandpa Joseph Steel

When we visited Washington, New Hampshire a few years ago we traced and contemplated the various family lines that converged at that significant spot.  I had previously heard that grandfather Church Tabor and his father Joseph had come during the 1780s to help construct the Washington, New Hampshire town meeting hall. This was also reported to be the second town meeting hall they had helped built, the first being the Town Hall at Nelson, New Hampshire.  However, on his later military pension application  affidavit, Church states that he moved to Washington, NH in 1776.  He had served in the military from May  1, 1775 to Jan 1, 1776 and a second time beginning in February 1, 1776 for two additional months.
About that same time the John and Mary (Wight) Healy family and children had come pioneering from Newton, Massachusetts.  Her parents were the Joseph and Mary Wight featured in the previous post, MA.  Mary and John lived in Newton, MA after their marriage and according to the book The History of Washington, New Hampshire, arrived in Washington in 1778. Their son Nathaniel was born there in 1785.

William Steel and his brother John had also moved to Washington from the Amherst area of New Hampshire.  Elizabeth was the daughter of John Steel and Jane his wife and was one of five siblings.  Elizabeth was born in Wilton, New Hampshire in 1764.  William, her uncle, became one of the leaders of the new community. 
All three of these families arrived in Washington for different reasons and apparently separately. Church Tabor and Elizabeth Steel met in Washington and married in September of 1782.  We have yet to find a maiden name anywhere for her mother Jane which impedes our efforts to trace her family back to or beyond their arrival in New England.  Unfortunately the original town hall and records of Wilton burned many years ago and the original records were lost.  Fortunately the history of the town had been completed previously, so much of the genealogical records remain in that form.  Church and Elizabeth's daughter, Jane Tabor, was born in Washington in 1786.  Twenty years later Nathaniel Healy and Jane Tabor were married on December 22, 1807. 

William Steel and John Healy had significant differences about how the town should be run and often found themselves in opposition. Ironically,  in our later generation veins, the blood lines of all the families flow mingled together and their disputes and rivalries having been laid to rest over 200 years ago.    
The Washington town historian gave us directions to the road leading to the farms where the Healy's and the Tabors lived during their tenure in Washington.  This road does not appear to have EVER been improved.  My brother and his family had fortunately come with us on this journey and we had all piled into their Suburban in order to travel together. The Suburban mastered the road.  Our small rental would have been much the worse for wear!  Those rocks are formidable!  I can't imagine that horses had any affection for this road either!  And going over them in a cart or wagon without good suspension would have been miserable.  Even with the suburban my brother got out to check and see how much worse the road might become.  All that is left there, we heard but did not see, were old foundations scattered in the forest.
Hardy folk, these pioneers.  I really admire their strength and ability to withstand the hardships in spite of which they continued to thrive.  Moving on horseback  and wagons and walking for miles on undeveloped roads through forested areas full of animals, Indians and traders.  They formed a community for companionship and security, but when the sun went down it was dark, except for a lantern or a distant candle in a window marking the way home. A long way between neighbors so a lot of self-sufficiency was required.  No antibiotics.  Few doctors.  Amazing people all of them. 
So we learned a lot on that past visit to Washington.  But new questions were raised as well.  There was the grave of Widow Sarah Steel, mother of William Steel and of John. She was Grandpa John's mother.  Why was she buried there and who was her husband?  Where did she come from.  Later research brought to light that she was a Putnam, born in Salem, Massachusetts.  It turns out that her father was Deacon Edward Putnam Jr. and her mother was Sarah Miles.  Her grandfather was Deacon Edward Putnam Sr. and her grandmother was Mary Hale. Her paternal grandfather was Thomas Putnam and his wife was Ann Holyoke.  Sarah's great- great grandfather John Putnam.  A link that provides detailed information on the Putnam Genealogy even goes back another twenty generations in England.  It appears that the Putnam name in the US was a shortened and phonetic version of the name that originated in Puttenham, England.  Those would be fun to track down! But another task for another day!  This brings up other questions -- how did Joseph Steel and Sarah Putnam meet?  This currently remains a mystery.
The father of brothers William and John Steel (they had many other siblings that don't enter into this narrative) was Joseph Steel of Amherst, New Hampshire. The location of his life and death was very surprising as my brother and sister-in-law have lived for many years in Amherst and their home is our base of operations on our East Coast family history travels. They have sort of moved full circle back to the beginning of our family history.  On that trip, we couldn't find his final resting place, but a year or two later my brother and family stopped in Mont Vernon, a town that historically was previously a part of Amherst, and there just inside the gate was Grandpa Joseph.  This spring, because we knew he was found, one of our goals was to visit him at long last.
It was a cold and windy morning so it was nice that we didn't have to search headstone to headstone.  There he was, just inside the gates.  Since he is, as far as we know, buried without family members, it is fitting that he has the very close embrace of the tree to keep him company, especially in the long, cold winters of New England.
The angle of the morning sunlight made reading the headstone a bit challenging. 
 As usual with these old Puritan stones, we are exhorted to remember the fate of us all and to live accordingly ~~.  It is not just that we all die, but we after we do that we still have to give an accounting of to the One who created us for His Own purposes.  Our lives are not our own.
I love the wording -- "In memory of Mr. Joseph Steel, who after the laudable exertions of a useful life, died on the 27th day of February, 1788 in the 82nd year of his age." 
His will reads, "June 29, 1787, "I Joseph Steel of Amherst in the County of Hillsboro and State of New Hampshire, Yeoman being far advanced n years but of sound mind and memory and calling to mind the mortality of my body that it is appointed until all men once to die, do make and ordain this my last will and Testament principal and above all I recommend my soul into the hand of God that gave it and my body from the earth from whence it was taken there to be buried in a decent Christian manner at the discretion of my executors, nothing doubting but that I shall receive the same again at the general resurrection by the almighty power of God and as touching the temporal estate that it hath pleased almighty God to bless me in this life, I do give and bequeath in the following way and manner, that is to say my funeral charges and just debts being first paid."  From there is lists his bequests. 
Rest in peace Grandpa Steel until the last trumpet sounds that will call you and all of us to stand before the God of all the earth.  Thank you for faithfully passing on the torch of faith from the generations before you to the ones that followed.  You have not been forgotten.      

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Visiting Deacon Joseph and Mary (Stearns) Wight in Dedham, Massachusetts

In April, my husband and I finally got the opportunity to complete the vacation we had originally scheduled for September 2014.  The episode where he fell off the ladder and shattered his heel, well, that ended the well-laid plans for our vacation.  Couldn't walk for over three months.  We LUV Southwest Airlines because there was no fee to change our flight -- but we did have to use the tickets by July 1st.  So rather than our preferred Fall trip to New England we went on a spring trip.  We are happy to report that the snow had all melted by the time we got there (giving us some cause to doubt the reports of the severe New England winter.  But they stand by their stories! It is so convenient for us that my brother and his family live in New Hampshire. We not only get to spend time visiting with them, we have a base of operations for our travels back in time.

For information on how I first fell into learning about my family history you can read a previous Light Keeper entry.  After our visit to Vermont a few years ago and becoming acquainted with Topsham, we have slowly been working backwards as we research older generations. This time we hoped to learn more about the Wights of Dedham and particularly Deacon Joseph and Mary (Stearns) Wight. 

Before we left we contacted the Dedham historical society and arranged to meet with the historian there on the first Thursday of our trip.  Here is their museum, library and resource room. 
Dedham was first settled around 1635-6 and the Wights were some of the early arrivals.  Deacon Joseph was the third generation of the family in the United States.  His father was Henry Wight and his grandfather was Thomas Wight.  Henry was born in England but Joseph was born in Massachusetts.  Thomas was a recipient of land in Dedham and was one of the signers of the original Covenant.  His land is outlined in blue in the map below. The purple area is the Old Village Cemetery.
Thomas lived in Dedham for awhile and then he and most of their children moved on to Medfield where later on they helped to found Harvard (sounds like a trip to Medford will be in our future).  However, Henry stayed on the Dedham property and raised his own children there.  Six generations of Wights lived on that property. After Henry died, Joseph Wight lived there and later his son Ebenezer farmed the land with his wife Subiah.  Ebenezer and Subiah are not recorded as buried in the Old Village Cemetery but it does not sound like they left Dedham.  For A LOT of information on the Wight family there are old published family histories as well as a detailed blog I came across.
We spent hours finding information about the family.  We spent the morning pouring over books and then took a lunch break and walked around the main downtown street. 
 This is the police station.
 A church on High Street.
A side residential street.
 We returned to the Historical Society  and then as it neared closing time we headed off to the Old Village Cemetery.  We knew the family there would be at home! 
Just a few blocks from the Historical Society stands the church and the Old Village Cemetery. The church stands on the corner of Church and Court Streets. 
 Thanks to modern technology, we were able to locate the gravesites of both Joseph and Mary with GPS locators on the Cemetery website.  So it did not take long to find them.  Here they have lain side by side (well, the real them is at home with the Lord!) for just shy 200 years.
Here they are; my great X 6 grandparents. 
Joseph was born on May 11, 1654 in Dedham, Massachusetts, a little less than 20 years after his father and grandfather came to America.  He died June 23, 1729.   He was the son of Henry Wight and Jane Goodenow.  A historical sketch from the Dedham Historical Society notes that he was deacon of the first church for 33 years, was a selectman for 18 years, and was town clerk for 13 years. He was regarded as having superior judgment and excellent understanding and that in his old age "many parents carried their children to him that they might implore for them the favor of heaven."  I like to think that at the same time he prayed for all the generations of his children to come in the future, of which I am one.
 Joseph married twice, Mary (my grandmother)and his second wife was daughter of Lt. Nathaniel Stearns.  She was born August 22, 1661 and died on Christmas Day 1733.  Mary's mother was Mary Stone -- and there are, I hear, a great number of Stone descendants in the US.   My brother did some digging around to learn more of them and it looks like it has some great potential for more fun family history.    It might be really sad to have to travel to England to further our knowledge!      
Only one home is still standing from the first settlement of Dedham.  As noted before, six generations of Wights lived in that family home.  Eight Fairbanks generations lived in their family home before it became a museum.  I imagine that in it's day the Wight's place looked a great deal like the Fairbanks House.  These houses were originally smaller, but as generations were added so were additional rooms.
We were too early in the year to tour the Fairbanks home, so that will be left for a different journey.  Maybe we can yet locate Ebenezer Wight and Subiah Hall Wight, his wife.  It is quite aggravating that I can't seem to find more information on her parents. She was reported to have been born in Stoughton.  With a unique name like Subiah one would think that she would be easy to find. On the bright side, as more vital statistics information gets published to the web, the possibility of new discoveries improve.  There is already much more information available than when we first began this journey less than ten years ago.
Psalm 145:4 says of the Lord, "One generation will acclaim your works to another and will describe your mighty actions."  I, and America as a whole, are the beneficiaries of these past generations who passed on their knowledge of the love of God.  I am grateful for these long-ago grandparents who have been faithful in their time to pass on their knowledge of and faith in God.