Sunday, December 22, 2013

Joseph Green and the Christmas Rose

The Christmas Rose (Helleborus Niger)
from Wikipedia Commons
by Archenzo Moggio (Lecco)

Throughout the year I look for family history stories which apply to Christmas. I found one for this year, but I must warn you, it is a little sad. In my research in British newspapers this year I came across a story about my three times great grandfather, Joseph Green. Now, to clarify, this is the great grandfather of my maternal grandfather, William Sanderson, and not one of the Greens related to my maternal grandmother, Alice Sanderson, nee Saunders.

A little background: Joseph Green was born about 1819 in March, Cambridgeshire, England, the son of Joseph Green and Ann Banes. He was baptised on August 2, 1819 at the Church of St. Wendreda. He married Mary Pepper, nee Smart, also known as the “widow Pepper” on December 23, 1841, the same year her first husband died. She had two small children, Jonathan, 5, and Elizabeth Ann, 4, from her first marriage. Mary was born about 1815 in Downham Market, Norfolk, and was the daughter of John Smart and Elizabeth Wanford. Joseph and Mary (see, already a Christmas connection) went on to have at least five children together, including Joseph, (my great great grandfather), Susannah, Ann, Joanna, and Grace.

The Joseph Green of our story had a few different occupations during his life, including operating an alehouse, and being a “carter” far away in Lancashire, possibly for a coal mine or a quarry. He also had a farm, more of a smallholding, of about sixteen acres, on Whittle End Road in March. Some of the newspaper stories I have found which seem to apply to him, may also apply to his father, Joseph Green, who was also a farmer of a smallholding in March, of about ten acres. Unfortunately, Joseph Green the elder met his end at the age of seventy-one due to falling off a “load of peas” in August of 1862.

from Cambridge Independent Press, August 23, 1862
accessed via Find My Past
So, one of the Joseph Greens grew a plant called Helleborus Niger in his garden, a plant which was also known as the Christmas Rose. There is a legend that it got its name because it sprouted out of the snow from the tears of a young girl who had no gifts to give the Christ child in Bethlehem. Apparently, it has been a favourite among cottage gardeners because it continues to flower in the midst of winter. It is also poisonous. I found the following article in The Cambridge Independent Press, dated December 29, 1860:

The “Tuesday last” of that week referred to in the article would have been Christmas Day. So, to recap:  Joseph and Mary may have awakened on Christmas morning in 1860 to find that several of their precious sheep had died from eating the Christmas roses in their garden. Where were the shepherds when they needed them?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Elizabeth Watson, Wife of Joseph Long Johnson, Whitby, North Yorkshire

Elizabeth Johnson, Wife of Joseph Long Johnson Gravestone
St. Mary the Virgin's Church Cemetery
Whitby, North Yorkshire
(by permisson of Charles Sale, Gravestone Photographic Resource

I am happy to present to you today a photo of the gravestone of Elizabeth Johnson, wife of Joseph Long Johnson, in St. Mary the Virgin’s Church Cemetery in Whitby, North Yorkshire. This was kindly provided to me by Charles Sale of Gravestone Photographic Resource, and is reproduced here with his permission. (Thank you, Charles).

I believe this to be the oldest gravestone of which I possess an image from my direct lineage in England. We can know that it is Elizabeth because you can see that she is the “wife of Joseph Long Johnson”, although there is little else that is legible. It is possible that others are buried with her, but so far, we have no evidence of this.

This is what I know about  Elizabeth Johnson, nee Watson, who was my three times great grandmother. According to the 1841 census, she was born about 1796 in Yorkshire. She married Joseph Long Johnson on May 2, 1824 in Whity, North Yorkshire. She had at least six children: Sarah, Mary Ann, Joseph, Elizabeth, Benjamin, and Thomas Henry. She died in the second quarter of 1843 In Whitby and, as mentioned, was buried in the churchyard of St. Mary the Virgin’s Church, which was Anglican.

St. Mary the Virgin Church
via Wikipedia Commons
from author Tom Richardson

I mentioned Elizabeth in a previous blogpost, Marlow Line: Joseph Long and Joseph Long Johnson in the Newspapers, and stated there that her mother was Ellis Watson. I no longer believe that this is so. This is because the Elizabeth Watson who was the daughter of Ellis Watson had a baby named after her stepfather, Francis Fishburn, a year after our Elizabeth married Joseph Long Johnson. The baptism record of the baby gives the mother as Elizabeth Watson, and mentions no father. I believe it is unlikely that this could be our Elizabeth, who was a married woman at the time, particularly as the child, born May 24, 1825,  would have to have been conceived after Elizabeth’s marriage.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Evelyn Sampson’s Pilgrim Fathers

Evelyn Sampson

Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers, and to everyone else.

Today, I am honoured to present a poem written by my beautiful mother-in-law, Evelyn Sampson, who died in 1974, long before I met her son. Her gentle and loving spirit has been with us always. She was a poet as a young adolescent, and many of her poems were published in Chicago newspapers. Recently, when I was reading her poetry, I came across one about the pilgrims, which gave me chills considering that her only child was to be born on American Thanksgiving, and that her grandson would be a Mayflower descendant.

Pilgrim Fathers

They came for peace and happiness,
The sisters, sons, and mothers.
For freedom in a far-away land
They came, those Pilgrim fathers!

Much they suffered and endured
For liberty’s dear sake.
And many loved ones were laid to rest
From a sleep they would never wake.

But in them was a spirit true,
And tho the bitter cold made them numb,
They determined in, stay and pave a way
For the generations to come.

Ah, gone are they now - gone forever -
‘Neath the cool green grass for many a day.
Yet the spirit so true that has sprung from them
Shall never fade away.
                                By Evelyn Sampson

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Phebe Bloom Hart, David Thomas Vail, and Abraham Lincoln

From The City of Troy and its vicinity,
Phebe Bloom Hart, the third child of Richard Philip Hart and Betsey Amelia Howard, was born June 30, 1819 in Troy, New York. She was named after her father’s first wife, and after his first daughter by that wife, who died at the age of twelve. Like most of her sisters, she attended the Troy Female Seminary, and her biography also appears in the book, Emma Willard and Her Pupils, having attended from 1827 to 1837. She married David Thomas Vail on November, 20, 1838 at the age of nineteen. They travelled in Europe for a year after their marriage. They had four children, Howard Hart Vail, who died at the age of one, Rev. Richard Phiip Hart Vail, Jane Eliza Vail, and Phebe Hart Vail.

Her husband, most often referred to as “D. Thomas Vail”, was born September 18, 1814 also in Troy, New York. He was from a prominent family in Troy, and his uncle Henry was a U.S. Congressman, who was also a “close friend” of President Martin Van Buren. David Thomas graduated from Williams College in 1834, and then went into his father’s mercantile business. He became the director of the Merchants and Mechanics’ Bank of Troy in 1847, and in 1850 succeeded his father as its president. He had many other business interests including railroads and manufacturing.

Abraham Lincoln, 1860
Matthew Brady photograph
from Wikipedia Commons via Library of Congress

One of the high points of his life may have been that in 1861 he was given the honour of playing a role in Abraham Lincoln’s visit to Troy. The following is from The History of Troy:

The reception of Abraham Lincoln by the people of Troy, on the 19th of February, is thus described: “Abraham Lincoln, President-elect of the United States, arrived in this city this morning a few minutes past nine o’clock. The Central railroad cars brought him over the Rensselaer & Saratoga road from Albany via the Junction, on account of the swollen condition of the river, the passage across it in a boat at Albany being considered unsafe. The train consisted of six cars, filled with the suite of the President, the members of the New York Press, the Troy Committee of arrangements, the Albany Burgesses Corps, and several gentlemen from Albany. The depot was filled to its utmost capacity by men of all parties, to do honor to the President-elect. There was one vast sea of heads, and the noise and enthusiasm were beyond description. There could not have been less than thirty thousand people present in the depot. The Hudson River car prepared to convey the President to New York stood on the middle track with a platform car covered with matting drawn up in the rear, on which the reception ceremonies were to take place, in the presence of this vast audience. The Citizens’ Corps, Capt. H. L. Shields, which had been ordered out to do duty, were drawn up on both sides of the open car, to keep back the crowd. The train ran in the depot to the east of the New York train, and a plank being laid from the rear end of the train to the platform car, Mr. Lincoln soon appeared upon it in company with Mayor McConihe. His appearance was the signal for applause never before equalled in this city. Mr. Lincoln bowed in response, and replied in brief terms. While he was speaking, his suite embarked on the Hudson River Train, and Mr. Lincoln, upon conclusion of his address, was conducted by Vice President D. Thomas Vail, of the Troy Union Railroad Company, the platform of the rear car, where, as the train moved away, he stood with uncovered head and bowed his acknowledgments to the plaudits of the people. While the train was coming over the Rensselaer & Saratoga railroad bridge, a detachment of the Troy City Artillery fired a salute of thirty-four guns in honor of the President”.

Phebe Bloom Hart Vail passed away on October 25, 1870, at the age of fifty-one. Her youngest daughter was only thirteen at the time. Her husband’s fortunes took another turn for the worse when in 1878 he was indicted for a fraudulent business deal while President of the Merchants and Mechanics Bank of Troy. This subsequently resulted in the failure of the bank. Reviewing the newspaper accounts of the time, I find that the following seems to put the affair most succinctly:

The Stark County Democrat
Canton, Ohio
, December 5, 1878
(accessed on Genealogy Bank)

In the course of time other family members were implicated, including his son-in-law and his brother-in-law. Although he was allowed not to go to jail due to his apparent imminent demise from ill health, he lived another four years. However, he remained mainly confined to his house for the last three years of his life due to “heart disease”, which was “aggravated” by his “financial troubles”. He died on February 5, 1882. It is reported in his obituary, “About two weeks since his complaint assumed a more serious phase, and since then he has been gradually sinking. His death, however, was not anticipated so soon. He bade his daughter “good night” about midnight Saturday, and said he thought they would all have a comfortable night. She visited his bedside occasionally after that, but thought him sleeping. At length, at about 5 o’clock a.m. Sunday, alarmed at his perfect quietude, she called assistance, and it was ascertained that Mr. Vail had peacefully closed his book of suffering and trouble, which he had uncomplainingly endured with manly resolution and Christian fortitude. By the death of Mr. Vail Troy loses a citizen who has ever been active in the promotion of its various local enterprises, and a zealous co-laborer for the welfare of its educational and charitable institutions”.

He and Phebe are buried at the Oakwood Cemetery, which he had helped to found.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

My Descent into Descent’s Blogiversary

Today I am celebrating the one year anniversary of the creation of this blog, My Descent into Descent. I am so excited that I have been able to keep this blog going for this long, although I have definitely not blogged every day as I had planned. I have discovered that for the type of blog this is, telling stories of interest from my family tree, the amount of research required for each blogpost makes publishing daily unrealistic. In addition, I enjoy just spending time researching without having to be focused on what I am going to write. This often leads to discoveries which I share with you later. When it comes to writing and research, I operate very much on the pleasure principle.

I have recently written about my blogging experience to date, which I invite you to visit for my personal joys of blogging. What I would like to share with you today are my most popular blogposts. These include:

William Cook 1849-1908, Saskatchewan Pioneer. This is the story of my great great grandfather William Cook and his experiences homesteading in Saskatchewan. I have been surprised and delighted by the response of my Cook relatives to my writings about this line in general. They have inspired me to write more about the Cooks.

Stephen A. Hart: The Singing Surveyor of Goodhue County, Minnesota. I believe the popularity of this blogpost is due more to the response of people interested in local history than of family history buffs, as Stephen’s children did not survive past childhood. Writing about Stephen has shown me that family history writing can be a special type of historical writing, which gives a deeper genealogical perspective to the events of history.

The Infamous Nicholas Hart (1610-1654?) I am fascinated by my mysterious first Hart ancestor to come to America. I don’t think most Hart researchers knew about his connection with Sarah Dudley, the governor’s daughter, before this. I’m glad to share.

William Cook Senior and the Case of the Purloined Ferret. This was the result of my explorations into British newspapers, and was a lot of fun to write. It was wonderful to find some confirmation for family stories about William Junior, too.

Lily Elizabeth Newton Cook Arnold 1881 - 1965. See what I mean about my Cook cousins? They have really supported this blog. Making contact with Great Grand Aunt Lily’s descendants was one of my main purposes in starting this blog in the first place. It took a little time, but they really came through. My contact with them has been one of the most gratifying results of writing MDID.

My own favourites are little different. They are:

All of my blogposts on my great grandfather Herbert Charles Saunders, which were my first. My journey discovering Herbert’s story has been the most profound of my research to date.

All of my blogposts on my great great grandmother, Emma Green Cook, one of my favourite ancestors, whose picture adorns this blog.

All of my blogposts about Melvin J. Hart, another of my great grandfathers, and also one of my favourite ancestors. The single greatest joy of my research to date is finding his Civil War photo on Ancestry. This year I was able to obtain a better copy of the original from the owner. How cool is that?

The Marlow Centennial – 100 Years in Canada. Imagine receiving a newspaper article written by one of your great aunts, exactly one hundred years before, describing her family’s recent emigration to Alberta. This was just spooky.

And, off the top of my head, all of my blogposts from my family history road trip this summer. Words cannot express the experience of walking in the footsteps of your ancestors. It was fun to blog from the road, too.

Oh, and I have to say that I’m pretty excited about the current series I am doing about the family of Richard and Betsey Hart, of Troy, New York—the Hart line I wish I had been born into. I lack the silver spoon.

I would love to hear what your personal favourites are. Thanks to all my “gentle readers” for their support throughout the year.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Harriette Howard Hart, Lieutenant Ezra Thompson Doughty, and Lafayette Again

Lafayette about 1820
Wikipedia Commons

Harriette Howard Hart, the second child of Richard Philip Hart and Betsey Amelia Howard Hart, was born on May 11, 1818 in Troy, New York. She, like her sister Mary, attended the Troy Female, but from 1827 to 1834. At the age of eighteen, on September 29, 1836, she married the naval lieutenant, Ezra Thompson Doughty, who was seven years her senior. They had three children, William Howard Doughty, born 1837, and it seems that the last two children were twins--Ezra Thompson Doughty Jr. and Richard Hart Doughty, both possibly both born on February 14, 1839. Harriette and Ezra appear to have made Troy their residence their whole lives. Ezra died at the young age of thirty-one on April 27, 1843, and Harriette passed away on September 10, 1870 at the age of fifty.

Harriette’s husband Ezra T. Doughty’s naval career is of interest to us for two reasons, first that he wrote a journal of his voyages, and that he was aboard the USS Brandywine when it transported General Lafayette back to France after his 1824/1825 visit to the United States.

Ezra’s diary is now located at the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan. According to the website, “Ezra T. Doughty's diary entries pertain to his experiences onboard the USS St. Louis and USS Grampus during the ships' voyages in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico in 1832 and 1833. Doughty, a midshipman who became sailing master of the Grampus in December 1832, recorded detailed descriptions of Haiti; Veracruz, Mexico; and Havana, Cuba, and reflected on several aspects of navy life”. It also gives the following biography for him:  “Ezra T. Doughty became a midshipman in the United States Navy on May 3, 1824, and was stationed at the Norfolk Training School in 1830. In the fall of 1832, he sailed on the St. Louis from New York City to Pensacola, Florida, via Haiti and Cuba. In December 1832, he became sailing master of the schooner Grampus for its cruise from Pensacola to Norfolk, Virginia, via Veracruz, Mexico, and Havana, Cuba. On March 3, 1835, Doughty was promoted to lieutenant, and he later served onboard the Vandalia”.

USS Brandywine about 1831
Wikipedia Commons

When Ezra was a midshipman in 1825, and aboard the USS Brandywine with the Marquis de Lafayette, he and the other midshipmen signed an address which was made to the aging general as he was about to disembark at Le Havre. Many of the of the sailors on board had apparently been chosen to be there due to one of their ancestors’ distinguished service during the Revolutionary War. Lafayette’s verbal response was as follows: “My dear young friends; I am unable to express my feelings towards you. Before I had the pleasure of your acquaintance, I considered it an honor to belong to the United States’ navy—since then my knowledge of you, as individuals, had added to my admiration of the chivalry of your profession, and rendered sanguine my expectations of its future achievements. Your country has reason to be proud of you; I part from you with regret—but should your duties or inclinations bring you again to France, remember that Lagrange is the home of every American. Farewell”.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Alice Alida Le Bourgeois Jaquet Durkee Hardy-The/Pierre de Coulevain: Continued

Illustration from Eve Victorieuse 1900
Internet Archive

I think I may have just discovered a heretofore unknown American writer from Louisiana, who was thought for over a century to be a French woman--first Mlle. Favre de Coulevain, and then Jeanne Philomene Laperche.

The more I look into Joseph H. Durkee’s wife Alice, born Marie Alida Lebourgeois, discussed in the previous blogpost, the more I believe that she is the true author of all of the works written under the pseudonym of Pierre de Coulevain. These include Eve Victorieuse, Noblesse Americaine, Sur la Branche, L’Ile Inconnue, Au Coeur de la Vie,  and Le Roman Merveilleux. In English, they are Eve Triumphant, American Nobility, On the Branch, The Unknown Isle, The Heart of Life, and The Wonderful Romance. It must be understood that although the writer known as Pierre de Coulevain was not considered to be a great author, her works were very popular, both in America and in Europe. Some went through many printings, and most received fairly favourable reviews. There were several articles in the press responding to the views expressed in the novels on Europeans and Americans, particularly American women, and she appears to have been widely quoted.

From what I have been able to ascertain, she was born Marie Alida Lebourgeois on September 20, 1861 in Opelousas, St. Landry, Louisiana, in the heart of Creole and Cajun country. Her parents were Louis Florian Lebourgeois and Marie Alida Beraud. Her family did own a plantation in Lousiana as she claimed, and continued to own it after the Civil War. She was part owner with her brother Raoul. Before she married Joseph, she married William F. Jaquet on September 30, 1880, a marriage which was described as “unhappy”.  After Jaquet’s death, she married the wealthy Joseph H. Durkee in New Orleans on January 20, 1894 on his thirty-second birthday. (This may have been done for her family’s benefit, as it was also claimed that they had married earlier in Paris). They spent much of their marriage living in Paris, where they may have owned an hotel near the Bois de Boulogne. As mentioned in the previous blogpost, she claimed authorship of the Pierre de Coulevain novels (and short stories). One newspaper account states that her husband Joseph had helped her with Noblesse Americaine, and that an Italian man had assisted her with Eve Victorieuse. Another account stated that she had “apologized” for her claims to be the true writer “Pierre de Coulevain”, who accepted her apology. Six years after Joseph’s death at sea, she married Lucien Hardy-The on June 30, 1904 in Philadelphia. Not only was he a French capitalist, politician and former newspaperman allegedly, he also sang baritone. Alice and Lucien were said to have met at one of her “musicales” in Paris, and developed their relationship over the Pierre de Coulevain authorship controversy. (One account states that he was an Englishman). She died of pneumonia on November 16, 1906 at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. She had been on her way to Louisiana from Paris and fell ill in New York. In her will she left most of her fortune, estimated to be about half a million dollars, to her husband, her portion of the St. Landry plantation to her brother Raoul, and her jewellery worth upwards of $100,000 at the time to her niece, Blanche. There is no mention in the newspaper accounts of there being any reference in the will to her writings. A death notice states that she was “beautiful” and “accomplished”.

It appears that only one of the major works attributed to Pierre de Coulevain was published after Alice/Alida’s death, that being Au Coeur de la Vie in 1908. Several of the translations of her works were published post mortem, up until 1914. She may have had one French language manuscript ready enough for publication at the time of her death. It may be that all of the translations were written by Alice/Alida herself, but she was reluctant to publish them all while she was living due to having used recognizable American models for some of her characters. (The “translations” may have been the true originals of the works—the French versions could have been written second, and possibly not by her).  Judging by her surviving husband’s credentials, he may well have been capable of arranging for the posthumous publication of her work.

In the previous blogpost I mentioned that there was a newspaper report that a Mlle. Favre de Coulevain had expressed public outrage at Alice’s claims that she had written de Coulevain’s novels, and claimed to have been the authoress herself. In 1913 there were reports that Mlle. Favre, supposedly born in Geneva, had died in Lausanne, Switzerland on August twenty-second of that year.

Now, it gets a little more bizarre. It  now appears to be accepted  that Mlle. Favre was another pseudonym, and that a woman by the name of Jeanne Philomene Laperche was the real name of the author, which makes the newspaper reports referring to Mlle. Favre as a real person even more odd. It is said that Laperche, who died in 1927, made the decision to kill off the Pierre de Coulevain persona in 1913 and to stop writing under this name. This happened around the time the last English translations were coming out, it should be noted. Clearly, it could have been a rather convenient thing to do if the real author was now deceased.

My current theory is that Laperche, Lucien Hardy-The, and possibly Alice herself, were accomplices in the whole business of claiming that someone other than Alice was the true author of Pierre de Coulevain’s works. (I have not yet ruled out that Laperche could have written the French versions from English originals written by Alice). As I have suggested previously, Alice could have had good reason to remain anonymous but still have wanted it to be before the public that she was the author, thus her claims in the newspapers and the clues in the works themselves. This includes the clue described in the previous blogpost, that of her giving her heroine in American Nobility the same birthday as her husband and placing her on the same ship he died on, the Bourgogne, all in the same sentence. I will be looking for more clues in the novels as I read through them.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Joseph H. Durkee, a Shipwreck, and Noblesse américaine

S.S. La Bourgogne, accessed via

As we have seen, Mary Amelia Hart and her husband Harrison Durkee had four children, Richard P.H., Elizabeth A., Augustus White, and Joseph H. Among the sons, Richard was a lawyer, Augustus was a businessman and broker in the tradition of his father, and Joseph was a broker and a gentleman of leisure. Elizabeth married Jonathan Crane late in life, and as of yet I have found no indication that any of the Durkee children produced any offspring.

The youngest child, Joseph Hart Durkee, born January 20, 1862, is of interest to us for a few different reasons, including his love of travel, his collection of rare Indian and Roman coins, his death aboard the ill-fated S.S. La Bourgogne, and his intriguing wife, Alice. During his life, his travels seem to have taken him to places such as India and Europe. He and Alice, born Alida Lebourgeois, were living in Paris for several years before his death. According to a newspaper account, Alice was from a wealthy Louisiana family of Creole descent. On July 4, 1898 Joseph was returning to Paris to join Alice on the S.S. La Bourgogne when it collided with another ship in the fog. The initial impact was felt as slight by many of the passengers, but the ship took at most an hour to sink. Quite the opposite to the Titanic, none of the passengers in first class survived, possibly because they were reassured that all was well, and many who were not already sleeping did nothing to prepare themselves. One assumes that Joseph would have been travelling first class.

In his will he bequeathed his collection of rare Indian and Roman coins, worth twenty-five thousand dollars at the time, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. You can view some of the coins on the museum’s website. The rest of his estate seems to have gone to his wife Alice.

What is notable about her is that she claimed to be the author of several works, including the novels Noblesse américaine and Eve victorieuse, under the nom de plume, Pierre de Coulevain, and that she was made a member of the French Academy for writing them. Noblesse américaine is about the adventures of a New York heiress in France. Her wealth and beauty are the objects of desire for the local nobility whose families are in desperate need an influx of American cash. The novel was first published in French in Paris in 1898, the year of Joseph’s death. I am currently reading the English version, American Nobility, translated by an “Alys Hallard”, possibly another pseudonym. I must say that as a writer about America in the Gilded Age, Alice/Pierre is certainly no Henry James or Edith Wharton, but she certainly engages the reader. (The Portrait of a Lady by James has always been one of my favourite novels). De Coulevain’s writings have been attributed to a French woman, Helene Favre de Coulevain, but I would say that the novel seems to reveal a familiarity with society life in both New York and Paris, which would indicate that the author is intimately acquainted with both from both sides of the Atlantic, such as an American expatriate would be. I also strongly suspect that “Alys Hallard”, the translator, is Alice Durkee herself, as the the novel seems less a translation than an original work, particularly as the humour is so fresh and seems effortlessly integral to the text. I would have to read both the English and French versions in their entirety to be a better judge. So far, I have identified two specific clues that the writer was Alice, which I believe she deliberately placed there, and they are from the same sentence of the novel. On page 23, referring to the heroine she writes, "as she came of age on the 20th of January, she had taken her ticket on the Bourgogne, which set sail on the 25th". Here, she uses her husband Joseph's birthday, and the ship upon which he died.

Perhaps she wrote the original novel in French under a pen name and had it published in Paris because she did use people she knew as models, but her ego did not allow her to stay completely anonymous, hence the clues and newspaper claims. There was a reported meeting of Mrs. Durkee and Mlle. Favre, the other reputed writer of the novel, at a reception in Paris hosted by the Countess de Tobriand, "when the affair came to a crisis". Mlle. Favre supposedly expressed her outrage at Alice's claims of authorship. I believe this may well have been staged, if it happened at all, as a way for Alice to at once reveal herself as the author and also to maintain some doubt about it. It may have also led to the sale of more of her books.

I am finding American Nobility a joy to read from a family history perspective, especially in her descriptions of the personalities and mores of her turn of the century New Yorkers and how they are perceived abroad. One imagines that her writing may be informed by her acquaintance with Joseph and his family, and that some of the details are closely inspired by them. I wonder if the following passage, in which she describes one of the heroine’s suitors, also applies to Joseph in some way: “She had a secret preference for Frank Barnett. He was handsome, distinguished, and then he talked in an agreeable way. As he was wealthy, he had never been compelled to choose any profession and his long visits to Europe had added a certain refinement to his conversation and general education. For the last three years he had been Annie’s knight. He had kept her supplied with the rarest flowers and had always reserved the best place on his mail-coach and his yacht for her. For all this, he had been repaid, at least, by very sincere friendship. The idea that Frank might some day become her husband had often occurred to her and was not at all displeasing to her either”.

Alice remains a mystery. 

[Please see my next blogpost, Alice Alida Lebourgeois Jaquet Durkee Hardy-The Continued].

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Mary Amelia Hart, Harrison Durkee, and Commodore Vanderbilt

Mary Amelia Hart, the eldest child of Betsey Amelia and Richard Philip Hart, was born  on November 17, 1816 in Troy, New York, ten months after her parents’ marriage, and when her mother was still just seventeen years old. She, like most of her sisters, attended Emma Hart Willard’s Troy Female Seminary, and her biography under her maiden name appears in Emma Willard and Her Pupils.  She was a student there from 1826 to 1831. She married Harrison Durkee on April 28, 1837 in New York City, and they had four children, Richard P.H., Elizabeth A., Augustus White,  and Joseph H.

Her father, Richard, was her husband Harrison’s mentor in business during his early years in Troy, which led to his becoming one of the earliest members of the New York Stock Exchange in the year of his marriage.  He also became the manager of the Howard Trust and Banking Company in Troy, which belonged to his wife’s grandfather, William Howard. The Durkees relocated to New York City in 1851 to allow Harrison to attend better to his business interests. Harrison apparently was an “intimate” of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, and an associate of his in business.  (One imagines that this means that a Hart woman was part of the Vanderbilt social circle of the time, which seems quite fitting when you think about it). Harrison was vice president of the Western Union Telegraph Company for many years, and was also the director of the Erie Railway.

There are several newspaper articles pertaining to the race horses he possessed, including the famous horse, Dictator. He apparently owned a tract of land near Flushing, Long Island, which he converted into a breeding farm. There is an article from the New York Herald, dated March 15, 1896, by Hamilton Busbey, an associate of Harrison’s, about Harrison’s horses, titled Trotters and Racers of Bygone Days. In it, he includes some remembrances of Durkee, including the following vignette:

He also writes regarding Durkee’s culinary pursuits:

And finally, a story from the end of his life:

Harrison Durkee died at his home at 714 Fifth Avenue, of nephritis and heart disease on August 4, 1886, at the age of seventy-four, his wife Mary Amelia having predeceased him two years earlier on  December 19, 1884. They are both buried in the Oakwood Cemetery at Troy, New York.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Betsey Amelia Hart: A "Solid Man" of Troy

Hart-Cluett House
CC-BY-SA-3.0/Matt H. Wade at Wikipedia

Betsey Amelia Howard, wife of Richard Philip Hart, was the daughter of William Howard, and granddaughter of Phebe Hart, who was the sister of Jeremiah and Philip Hart. As mentioned before, Betsey was born on December 9, 1798 in Dutchess County, and was the first cousin once removed of her husband. Her father, William Henry Howard, appears to have been even wealthier than her husband Richard. He was the president of the Union Bank in New York City in 1811 at its incorporation, and was either its trustee or president until 1840. He and his family seemed to have lived in Manhattan for many years until his death in 1845, two years after the death of Betsey’s husband, Richard. Betsey and Richard received the Hart mansion in Troy, New York, as a gift from from her father in 1827 to provide room for their burgeoning family.

Betsey was either an only child, or was a de facto only child, as her reported brothers moved away from New York. In 1845, Betsey was now the inheritor of two fortunes, that of her husband and that of her father. She must have been a wise manager of money, and a tycoon in her own right, as when she died in 1886 about forty years after her husband and father, she was reported as “the richest woman in America”, her estate valued somewhere between seven and ten million. This was all accomplished in nineteenth century America by a mother of fourteen children. She was named in in an article published in several newspapers in various parts of the country in 1865, as one of the “solid men of Troy” due to her high income. She was the only person mentioned from an original list of several individuals, likely because it was so unusual for a woman to be so wealthy, and because she was listed as a man.

I could find several  references to her generosity to charities and serving as their trustee, including educational institutions such as the Troy Female Seminary, Troy University, and the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and children’s charities such as the Troy Orphan Asylum, Young Men’s Association, and the Day Home.

Her husband had been instrumental in bringing the Troy Female Seminary to the city of Troy, a school which was the first in the country to provide women with the same quality of education given to men. Most of their daughters attended this school, operated by Emma Hart Willard, the famous nineteenth century educator. Emma’s school was visited twice by the Marquis de Lafayette during his 1824/1825 visit to the United States, two years before any of the Hart daughters were to attend. However, it is likely that members of the Hart family saw the aging general during his sojourn in their city as it was a grand event.

Betsey was still living in her mansion when she died on August 23, 1886. Her fortune was dispersed among her children and grandchildren, and seeded their prosperity for decades to come. Her white marble mansion, after being sold to the Cluett family, and having been in their hands for many years, became the home of the Rensselaer Historical Society, and still stands as a rare example of this type of architecture in the late Federal style. Betsey’s bedroom with its Duncan Phyfe furniture has been decorated to appear as it was when she lived there. It is definitely going to be on my itinerary for my next family history road trip to New York State.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Mayor Richard P. Hart and the 1837 St. Patrick's Day Riot of Troy, New York

Richard P. Hart
from History of Rensselaer County
Richard Philip Hart, the second child of Philip and Susannah (Akin) Hart was born in Hart's Village, Dutchess County, New York on February 11, 1780. He went to work for his brother-in-law, Jacob Merritt, husband of his sister Mary, in Troy, New York. From there, he became a business man in his own right, making a great deal of money selling supplies to the U.S. Army and Navy during the War of 1812. This was in the tradition of his father Philip supplying the blue cloth for the uniforms of the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War.  Richard went on to amass a fortune in banking, railroad, real estate, and other industries. Interestingly, Richard P. (as he was always known), was elected to the New York State Assembly for the 1820 to 1821 session as the representative for Rensselaer County. His first cousin, and my three times great grandfather, Stephen Hart, was also elected to the New York State Assembly for the same term, but from Lewis County. This was the only term either man ever served in state government. As Richard benefited commercially from the construction of the Erie Canal, the terminus of which was close to Troy, I imagine that he was likely of the same party as the governor of New York State, Dewitt Clinton, the driving force behind the canal's construction. Richard's brothers Philip Hart Jr., Jacob Akin Hart, William Hart, and Isaac B. Hart, were also a part of the political and economic development of the City of Troy, but none to the extent of Richard.

Richard P. Hart first married Phebe Bloom on January 10, 1800, and had a daughter Phebe Bloom Hart, born in 1800, who died at the age of twelve. The mother passed away on May 9, 1801. He then married Delia Maria Dole on February 10, 1805, who died five months later of tuberculosis. His marital fortunes were to change when he married his first cousin once removed, Betsey Amelia Howard, on February 10, 1816, daughter of his first cousin William Howard and Rebecca French (White) Howard. (William was the son of Richard's aunt Phebe Hart Howard). Betsey was born December 9, 1798 in Dutchess County. They had fourteen children: Mary Amelia, Harriette Howard, Phebe Bloom, William Howard, Elizabeth H., Jane Rebecca, Richard, Joseph Moss, Susan, Caroline, Julia Ann, Frances, Sarah Wool, and Austin Spencer.

Richard and Amelia lived in a mansion in the city of Troy, which was built for them in 1827 as a wedding gift from her father to the couple. It still stands today, referred to as the Hart-Cluett House, and is the home of the Rensselaer County Historical Society and museum.

Richard was the mayor of the city of Troy from 1836 to 1838. In 1837 he helped quell the St. Patrick’s Day Riot in that city, which had started with a group of men hanging St. Patrick in effigy to insult the local Irish people. He went to the scene of the riot and ordered the crowd to disperse. He later ordered in the Citizens’ Corps, the local militia. Their entry into the fray “caused the participants to retire without compulsion”. One newspaper account described how the “Mayor and Recorder” “acted with great decision—were personally in the midst of the disturbances—and in several instances seized and handed over to the watchmen with their own hands, those who were turbulent, insolent or riotage”.

Richard was also a patron of the arts and sciences in the city of Troy. He was a founding trustee of both the Troy Polytechnic Institute, the Troy Female Seminary, and the Troy Lyceum of Natural History. He was also a lover of literature and attending many lectures. His charitable interests also included the Troy Orphan Asylum.

While Betsey and the children were travelling in Europe, Richard was the victim of a terrible accident. He had been home with a bad cold, and was taking a “vapor bath”, when apparently the curtain around the bath caught on fire. A newspaper story states that a servant threw some liquid on him, thinking it was water, which turned out to be alcohol. He died related to his burns on December 27, 1843.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Philip Hart and George Washington's Blue Coats

Philip Hart portrait from the Millbrook Round Table Apr 18, 1902
Accessed via Fulton Postcards
Sometimes when I investigate the siblings of people on my direct lines I find information which helps illuminate the lives of my ancestors, and sometimes I also find fascinating stories about the sibling him or herself. This is certainly the case with Philip Hart, my fourth great grand uncle, and the brother of my four times great grandfather Jeremiah Hart, one of my five Revolutionary War ancestors.

Philip was the youngest of Richard and Mary (nee Taber) Hart’s ten children, born three years after Jeremiah, on January 12, 1749 in Little Compton, Rhode Island. Philip and his brother Jeremiah left Little Compton in about 1769 for Dutchess County, New York, in an area which was to be called “Hart’s Village” after their family. Their brothers John and Richard had moved there about fourteen years earlier, and possibly also his sister Phebe. Philip, Jeremiah and Richard were to own land in common there. Jeremiah left there permanently for Stillwater, Saratoga, New York in about 1775, and Richard likely moved to Orange County, New York. In 1786 and later Philip bought out his stepmother’s and brothers’ portions of the family farm.

Philip also appropriated the grist mill originally established by his older brother John, and possibly also Richard. (I am thinking that they may have learned about operating grist mills through working at the grist mill established by their kinsman Philip Taber in Adamsville, Little Compton, which my sister and I visited this summer. See my blogpost, Grist for the Mill: Harts and Tabers in Little Compton, Rhode Island). It is stated that John and his son John were loyal to the Crown during the Revolutionary War, and finding records about them is challenging. It is said that other members of the Hart extended family also moved to the Hart’s Village area, and I am working on discovering who they all were.

Philip was a young unmarried man when he came to Dutchess County, and likely also a Quaker. There is a story that Philip, at the age of twenty-five, fell in love with Susannah Akin, born November 7, 1759, a woman ten years his junior, but that her parents forbade their marriage, ostensibly due to the age difference. On December 18, 1774 the couple eloped on horseback to the next town while the rest of her family were attending a Quaker meeting or sleeping, and were married by a magistrate. It looks as though they were taking quite a risk of being shunned by the church by doing so.  It seems that Philip adored his wife his whole life, referring to her in his will as “my beloved bosom friend Susanna, the wife of my youth and constant companion of every waking hour”.

It appears that Philip was already prospering when he married Susannah, and had in addition to the grist mill a fulling mill, where wool was processed and made into cloth. Family lore is that Philip was a solider in the Revolutionary War, despite his Quaker roots, and there is evidence that he was a private in the Sixth Regiment. The story is that George Washington and his army came through the Hart’s Village area at one time, and that the village of Washington in the area was named after him because of this. Apparently, he “furloughed” Philip so that he could produce blue wool cloth for the uniforms of the officers of the Continental Army. Washington apparently also gave him permission to utilize the labour of prisoners of war to do this work. This all suggests that Washington and Philip could have met and conversed. Further evidence that Philip was a solider in the war is that he apparently was granted bounty land after the war, which was normally reserved for soldiers.

Philip went on to acquire large real estate holdings, and it is said that there were few deeds written in the area in his lifetime which did not have his name on them. At one point, after the war, he was able to acquire a great deal of land at bargain prices. There is a story that he bought a parcel of two hundred acres from a man for the price of “a suit of clothes”. His wealth increased when prices later rose. With real estate, farming, and his grist and fulling mill businesses, he was a well-to-do man. He built a house for his family, which still stands. It is said that his wife Susannah allowed him to be as decorative as he liked with the outside as long as the inside remained plain, reflecting her Quaker values.

Philip and Susannah had twelve children, eleven of whom lived to adulthood. They were: Mary, Richard Philip, Catherine, Philip, Jacob Akin, Benjamin Akin, William, Phebe, Susannah, William, Eliza and Isaac. His son Richard Philip Hart became immensely wealthy in his own right, and I hope to write about him next. Philip’s daughter Catherine married Dr. Alfred Tredway, and they lived in a house built for them next door to Philip’s. This house also still stands. In fact, it is currently an inn where you can stay. (See: Millbrook Country House). Philip’s House, as previously mentioned, still stands, and is still occupied. (See: The Philip Hart House-Sleeping Porch).

Philip was described as an “energetic business man” “who took a very active part in the church and town business”. He was also depicted as a “liberal and broad minded man”, and was known for his “hospitality to strangers”. It was said that he was of a “kind and genial nature, and always pleased to do an act of kindness for a friend”.

Susannah died at the age of sixty-nine on the 30th of September, 1829 at Hart’s Village, and Philip passed away on August 31, 1837, also at Hart’s Village. They were both buried in the Friends Cemetery.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

My Blogging Experience to Date

I have been taking a course through the National Institute for Genealogical Studies (, called Google for the Wise Genealogist. I just posted my assignment for the section on blogging, and I thought I would share it with you in a modified form as it describes my experience with this blog to date:

I do have my own blog, “My Descent into Descent”, which I started last November. It is by far one of the best things I have done to enhance my family history experience, and that of others, since I began this journey. The purpose of my blog mainly is to tell stories from all over my family tree which may be of interest to other people, and which may help me to connect with others who may have more information. I find that most people are not so much interested in looking at a family tree, but they do like the stories, especially when they seem to bring their ancestors to life in some way. The narratives I have done have helped me to sharpen up the research I am doing and to find more data along the way. I have received much more interest in this blog than I initially expected, and have connected with some of the distant family members I was hoping to find. My blog led me to visit some not-so-distant cousins this summer, and they showed me photos and other items from our shared heritage. We all felt that we had known each other for a long time. Amazing. When I started, I blogged almost every day, but that has trailed off in recent months. It is my love and my passion, so I hope to blog more frequently in future. I started out more methodically, but now I mostly go with my current inspirations. I have already accomplished my original goal of getting out all the family history stories of my ancestors who came to Canada, including all the family lore I had been told over the years. I have many ideas for more blogposts. This summer, I blogged from the road using my iPad during a family history road trip to New England. Taking this course has inspired me to blog more, and to try new things with my blog, such as embedding videos from YouTube, adding more widgets,  adding screenshots of parts of my tree from Ancestry (website and app), and posting an image of my spreadsheet from the last module! I highly recommend blogging, as you can tell. If anyone is wondering how to do it, I learned step by step from Lisa Louise Cooke’s “Family History Made Easy” podcast on iTunes, and her YouTube videos, which truly made the process “easy”.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Monk Family Baptism Records From St. Johnsville, Montgomery County, New York

I recently created a spreadsheet based on the book, Records of the Dutch Reformed Church: St. John's Church in the Town of St. Johnsville, Montgomery County, N.Y., which I found on Ancestry a while back. These are the baptisms of members of the Monk family which I was able to find in its pages. (I believe there may be more, so I will update you if I find them).The data in this book allowed me to make more sense of the lives of my three times great grandfather, Jacob Monk and his family, (i.e. the Jacob Monk born in around 1781 in German Flatts, Herkimer, New York, and not his son Jacob, who was born in 1814 in Minden, Montgomery, New York). Specifically, it helped me to realize that Jacob was not the "John Monk" or "Johannes Monk" who appeared in some records. The baptism records of the Dutch Reformed Church made it clear that Jacob and John were two separate people, and I am leaning toward them being brothers. These baptism records show them being sponsors at the baptisms of each other's children on the same day. I have decided to attach the spreadsheet I made in the hopes that it will help others with their research. I apologize for the small size of the chart, as the next size up would have been too big for, the space. If you click on, it will enlarge for you.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

William Cook Family Tree

I am trying to find a way to include small sections of my family tree into some of my blogposts, as I would like to make the relationships between people clearer. This would help readers more easily get their bearings as to where we are on the tree when we are talking about particular individuals or families. Here is my first attempt, the family of William Cook, one of my maternal great great grandfathers. I have decided to use his tree to demonstrate this new feature as posts about him and his family are now among My Descent's most popular. This is taken from a screen shot from the iPad app. You can click on the tree to enlarge it.

William Cook Family Tree
Here is a family group sheet clipped from my tree on Ancestry:

William Cook Family Group Sheet
You will definitely need to enlarge this by clicking on it. As you can see, I lack photos of Edward and Arthur Cook, so if you possess any of these, gentle reader, and you are willing to share them, I would be most obliged. Also, this chart highlights how little I know about Arthur Wilson Cook. The last record I have of him is in the 1906 Canada Census of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta when he is a "boarder" with the Alexander Dafoe family in Assinaboia East. The other odd thing about him is that he was born in Bexleyheath, Kent, while the family only appears to have lived in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. I would dearly love to know why his mother Emma gave birth to him there.

I would be interested in your feedback on my use of these charts and others like them in the future. I do plan to continue writing blogposts which tell stories from all over my tree, and I hope to reduce confusion about where in my tree individuals and families belong.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Cook, Saunders and Arnold Families: Vancouver in the early 1900's

I came across this wonderful footage today of Vancouver in 1907, eight years after the first members of the Arnold family came to Vancouver, four years before Emma Cook and the Herbert Saunders family arrived, and the same year Lily Elizabeth Newton Cook Arnold came with her husband and family. Quite amazing! I haven't viewed it carefully yet, so I haven't identified any landmarks. Maybe you can. Let me know.

William Sanderson: World War One Munitions Factory Worker

I previously wrote about my grandfather, William Sanderson, (William Sanderson: The Early Years), having worked in a munitions factory, likely somewhere in Cambridgeshire, during World War One. He always said it was his first job at the age of fourteen in 1917. I came across the following video of munitions workers in Britain recently, and wanted to share it with you as it helps to show what this work may have been like for him.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Baby Charles Saunders 1886-1886

West Monkton, the parish church of St. Augustine, 
From, Author Barbara Cook, Aug 31, 2006

I made some discoveries this morning regarding to the family of my great grandfather, Herbert Charles Saunders. (See my blogpost  Herbert Charles Saunders, 1884 to 1966, Part One). I was able to discover through that Herbert’s mother, Mary Jane Goff Saunders, was buried in West Monkton in the churchyard of St. Augustine on November 14, 1886, having died on November 8th. Also buried there was the five-day-old Charles Saunders on October 30, 1886. We knew from Mary Jane’s death record that she died of tuberculosis, but there was no mention of the complications of childbirth. A family story stated that she had died “in childbirth”. Here we have evidence that she died very soon after the birth of her last son, Charles, so it is possible that childbirth was a factor in her death. So, we know now that Mary Jane had another son, Charles, who was born alive. I was able to locate records through the birth and death indexes which correspond to the burial record for Charles, and I may send for one or both of them.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Martha, Mary Eliza, and Clara Cook Revisited

As I have mentioned in the past, one of my main interests in researching my family history has been finding out more about the family of Emma and William Cook, my maternal great great grandparents. I am happy to say that additional information has been provided to me about their daughters Martha Annie Wheatly Cook, Mary Eliza Cook, and Clara Matilda Cook, who were also the sisters of my great grandmother, Faith. I had previously written about them in two blogposts entitled Mary Eliza and Albert Godfrey: The Cooks Born in Canada, and William and Emma Cook’s Other Children,  the latter of which I now realize contains some key errors about my great grand aunt Martha. Thanks to the kind assistance of some other descendants of William and Emma, I was able to sort this out. (I have also found several other pertinent records in the process. I have also decided to remove the incorrect information from the previous blogpost so as not to run the risk of perpetuating misinformation).

Previously, I had Martha married to a man named Druitt, having a daughter, travelling to England, and dying in 1920. In actuality, she married a man called David Moran, who was the brother of her sister Clara’s husband, Charles Benjamin Moran. David was born David Franklin Moran on June 9, 1878 in Wellington, Ontario to William Moran and Lydia Stephen Terry Moran. His father had been born in Londonderry, Ireland and his mother was born in Ontario. The family moved to Saskatchewan, where Martha and David likely met. They were married between 1901 and 1906, and censuses show them as single in 1901, and married in 1906. In 1906 they are living and farming next door to David’s brother Ben, who has Martha’s sister Clara living with him as a housekeeper.

On March 1, 1911 Martha and David’s son William Arthur Moran was born. It does not appear that they had any other children. By 1938, the family is living in Canoe, near Salmon Arm, British Columbia, where Martha and David reside for the rest of their lives. Martha died on October 24, 1949 in Kamloops, British Columbia of ovarian cancer. David passed away in Kamloops on January 21, 1957. They were both buried in Salmon Arm, likely in the Mount Ida Cemetery. According to family who knew her, she was shorter than her siblings, was “talkative”, and liked to bake cookies. Her son William Arthur, married Myrtle Juanita Lee on May 15, 1946, and was later divorced. They had at least one child, a daughter, who apparently is still living. Arthur died on July 7, 1970 in Vancouver.

I have recently also discovered that David and Martha Moran had played a special role in the life of Martha’s sister, Mary Eliza Cook, when they were living in Rocanville, Saskatchewan. According to a newspaper article of unknown date and origin in the possession of family, they hosted Martha’s wedding to William Foster.  His surname is incorrectly written as “Forest” in the article:

Unknown newspaper and date
Image courtesy of H. Chagun
I estimate the marriage to have taken place in about 1915, as in the previous year Mary is listed under her maiden name in a Vancouver Directory, and the next year she is married according to census data. It is lovely to imagine how she looked as a bride, and how they all must have enjoyed the “large reception and dance”. It is also wonderful to know that her brother-in-law, and husband of her sister Clara, gave her away, and that her brother Godfrey attended the groom. From what I can gather, the "ribbon race" may have been marriage custom from the British Isles, in which the winners won prizes such as alcohol, or were declared the next to be married. (If anyone knows more about wedding "races", I would love to hear what you have to say). Mary Eliza and William had two sons, one named David William Foster, who was born in Winnipeg on June 7, 1918, and who died on September 26, 1989 in White Rock, British Columbia. Their other son may still be living, so no further information will be mentioned now. I have been able to locate William’s date of death, which is January 1, 1972, in New Westminster, British Columbia.

Through the information provided by family, I was also able to find the death date of Mary Eliza and Martha’s sister, Clara Matilda Cook Moran. She died on February 2, 1917, at the age of forty-five, in Rocanville, Saskatchewan, where she was living. She is also buried there. I have no information that she and Ben ever had any children, perhaps due to Clara's advanced age of thirty-eight when she got married in 1910. Ben died on April 27, 1938 in Salmon Arm, where he had been staying for seven months, likely with his brother David, as Martha was the informant for his death registration.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Phoebe Goff: A Life of a Woman in Victorian England

I wrote about the Goff and Saunders families early on in this blog with my four part series on my great grandfather, Herbert Charles Saunders. In these posts, I told the story of Herbert’s parents, and the effect the loss of his mother, Mary Jane Goff, had on his father, James Saunders, and all the events to which this led. This included my great grandfather being sent to Canada as a British Home Child. I have recently found some revealing articles in the British press from the nineteenth century which have helped to shed more light on these families, particularly the Goffs. Or should I say, “Goff or Newbery”. I am not joking. The actual surname of the family for at least about two hundred years and likely longer, was all three words, “Goff or Newbery”. I had never come across such a thing before, and as yet I cannot explain why two surnames were linked  in such a way. It appears that other researchers are as baffled as I am.  (In addition, Goff is often written as Gough). When I research my direct ancestors, I often find more about their siblings than I do about them, and this is the case with Mary Jane and her family. I was able to find more about her parents, her brother Thomas, and her sister Phoebe. I would like to focus on Phoebe today, as her story reads as if it came out of the pages of Charles Dickens or Victor Hugo. She also played an important role in the lives of the James Saunders family, and my great grandfather most certainly would have known her.

Phoebe and Mary Jane were born to George Goff or Newbery, who was born March 22, 1809 in Stockland, Dorset, and Ann Farrant, born about 1816 in Shute, Devon. (Ordering Mary Jane’s birth record from the General Record Office allowed me to identify her parents). George and Ann were married on June 13, 1837 in Shute, a few months before civil registration began in England. Their children, all born in Stockland after it became part of Devon, where the couple lived until George’s death, were Phoebe, born about 1845,  Thomas born 1847, Elizabeth Ann born about 1849, Mary Jane born February 21, 1851, and James born 1857. (Not all of the children’s births seem to have been registered). Interestingly, only Thomas seemed to use the name Newbery as his surname or part of his surname, and George often used only Goff. There may be additional children as there are no births identified between the marriage date and Phoebe’s birth eight years later. However, the couple is childless in the 1841 census. George’s occupation was variously described as “labourer”, “agricultural labourer”, and worker in a brewery. It appears that George Goff or Newbery ran afoul of the law in his life, usually being accused of theft of food items. It appears that he was imprisoned in 1835 at the age of twenty-six for three months for having stolen “flour”. During his imprisonment, he spent time in “solitary confinement”, and was “whipped”. In 1858, he was imprisoned for stealing “heath”, and acquitted of the charge of “receiving stolen goods”. (These may be related to the same charge). His son Thomas, who apparently never married, was often written up in the papers, mainly for being charged with poaching.

(Before I go much further, I should mention that there was another Phoebe Goff who was living in Stockland in 1851. I have virtually ruled her out as a candidate for the Phoebe who is featured in the newspaper articles to follow, as she and her family were no longer living in Stockland by 1861. In fact, they were living in Thurlbear, Somerset. The other Phoebe, born in 1849,  was in fact our Phoebe’s first cousin. She was the daughter of Humphrey Goff or Newberry, who was the brother of our Phoebe’s father, George).

Our Phoebe, who may have been named for her paternal grandmother, Phoebe Long, is found in the 1861 Census at the age of sixteen working as a “broommaker” and living with her parents. According to newspaper accounts, she was working as a “domestic servant” for the vicar, Charles Tucker, the following year, when the following occurred:

Phoebe Goff in Western Times, January 9, 1863
(accessed via Find My Past)
Another account is as follows:

Phoebe Goff in Exeter and Plymouth Gazette,  January 9, 1863
(accessed via Find My Past)

It might be assumed that such thefts may have occurred in the past, otherwise why would the police constable be hiding? Also, it is astonishing that Phoebe’s father asked if he could keep the money Phoebe allegedly stole. It makes one wonder if he put her up to the deed, given his past proclivities. This also seems to be a case of the punishment not fitting the crime, as four months hard labour seems excessive for the crime of stealing mainly food. Perhaps Phoebe was trying to help feed her family. She next appears in the newspapers in connection with another woman’s prosecution for allowing Phoebe and her associates to frequent her establishment. This article is under the heading "Honiton":

Phoebe Goff in Western Times, November 30, 1870
(Accessed via Find My Past)
If this is indeed our Phoebe, which it likely is, (and let’s not think about “Mary Ann” possibly being Mary Jane, gentle reader), then she may have been in the position of not being able to find work due to her criminal record. Also, she is only a “reputed” prostitute. The next year in 1871, the same year she appears in the census still living with her mother and siblings, she is again convicted for “larceny” and is sentenced to another four months in prison.

Phoebe Goff in Criminal Register for Devon, May 9, 1871
(Accessed via
Despite how far she had apparently fallen, her story has a happier outcome then might be predicted. She was nothing if not a survivor.  Phoebe married William Henry Drower on August 2, 1880, at the age of thirty-five, in West Derby, Lancashire, in the Parish of Walton on the Hill. It was the first marriage for both bride and groom. William, who was a stone mason, was also from Devon, but from Colyton. I do not know if they met in Devon, and then moved to Lancashire, or if they met while living in Lancashire. They ran at boarding house at 46 Canal Street in Bootle, Lancashire, and appear to have lived at this address for the rest of their lives according to census data. I can find no evidence that they had any children.

Phoebe and William played an important role in the lives of my great grandfather Herbert Saunders’ family. After the death of Mary Jane, his mother and her sister, his father James is found living with the couple with his brother John and some of the children in the 1891 census. He had lost his job and home in the aftermath of his wife’s death, and his own dissipated behaviour. Phoebe had taken them all in at a very difficult time in their lives. Herbert and his brother Albert were living with their paternal grandmother in Somerset that year, and likely moved to Bootle very soon after. They appear to have also lived with their Aunt Phoebe for a time. In a family account it is stated regarding “the aunt and uncle”, who were most certainly Phoebe and William, that “after a while the burden was too great for these good people”, and the children were placed in an orphanage.

 (It seems that at least Herbert was also taken in at some point by Phoebe and Mary Jane’s sister Elizabeth, likely before he went to live in Lancashire with his siblings. Her married name was “Lee”, and Herbert lists “Elizabeth Lee” as his mother on his marriage certificate, perhaps because she may have been the only “mother” he ever knew).

I suspect that Phoebe continued to be involved with the Saunders family, as her great niece, three-year-old Henrietta Windsor, daughter of Henrietta Saunders Windsor, is enumerated on the 1901 census as being present in her home on census night. Phoebe died in the first quarter of 1917 at the age of seventy-two in West Derby, Lancashire.