Wednesday, 3 August 2016

John Alden, Junior (1626-1702): Salem Witch Trial Survivor

The popular image of a witch is the one we have from Hallowe'en: a grotesque broom-riding evil woman in black. The accused witches during the Salem witch hysteria of the late seventeenth century were nothing like this. They were predominantly ordinary women in the community - wives, mothers, church members. (More information about the Salem witches can be found in my story about another Salem ancestor Robert Moulton.)

John Alden would discover to his shock and dismay that even successful well-respected men were not immune from accusation.

"Captain Alden Denounced" from "A Popular History of the United States", Vol 2
by William Cullen Bryant, New York: Scribner's Sons, 1878, p 463
Alfred Fredericks, Designer; A Bobbett, Engraver
Obtained from Wikimedia Commons

This John Alden was my 9th great grand uncle, next-oldest brother to my 9th great grandfather Joseph Alden. Born in 1626 as the eldest son to Mayflower passengers and Plymouth founders John Alden and Priscilla Mullins, John rose to prominence as a member of the Boston elite. He was a respected merchant, soldier and sea captain. He was a charter member of Reverend Willard's Old South Meeting House and Third Church.

He was also a family man. John became a widower in 1659 when his first wife died in childbirth with their first child. He then married in 1660 the widow Elizabeth (Phillips) Everill who had two children from her own first marriage. John and Elizabeth went on to have an additional 13 children of their own. He was a man widely known in the community, either personally or by reputation.

Nevertheless, on 28 May 1692 his name appeared among the list of those accused of witchcraft. At the age of 66, he made his appearance in a makeshift Salem courthouse. With the witchcraft hysteria in full swing, Chief Justice Stephen Sewall had summoned a total of 66 men to serve as jurors in the trials. Three of his fellow church members were part of the witchcraft court in which he found himself.

Alden's home was Boston, not Salem. He had simply stopped in Salem on his way home from Quebec where he had negotiated the release of some British soldiers. No doubt he often wished he had just carried on down the road that day.

These proceedings were generally a foregone conclusion with anyone accused being presumed guilty. No lawyers acted on behalf of the accused.  Spectral evidence based on dreams and visions was allowed. When newly appointed king's attorney Thomas Newton first witnessed these trials, he was dumbfounded by what he saw. Perhaps because of this, Alden's accusers were tested again and he was at first permitted to attend the hearing without a guard. It is said that Alden strode into the courtroom, sword at his side and took his place amidst the crowd. When the accusers failed to point him out, they were prompted to identify him. Moved outside into better light, the accusing girls circled him, taunting him with insults.

Alden had been active throughout the frontier. He had served in King Philip's War and had been a supplier of arms. His close ties with the Native Americans and with the French were often useful, but also seen as suspicious. Some of the girls in Salem had lost family in King Philip's War and it could have been tempting to attach blame to a prominent man thought to be somehow complicit in their deaths.

The bewitched girls accused Alden of selling munitions to the enemy and of sleeping with Indian women. When the girls said he afflicted them with his sword, it was removed from him. A marshal led him out to await his interrogation until after they dealt with another accused witch.

When John Alden returned to the meetinghouse later that afternoon, he was humiliated by being forced to stand on a chair with bound hands. Undeterred, he protested his innocence, asking why in the world would he come all the way to Salem village to hurt people he neither knew nor had ever met? When urged to confess, he said he had no intention of gratifying the devil with a lie. He challenged the assembly to supply a shred of evidence that he practiced witchcraft. Magistrate Hawthorne arranged for a touch test - a bewitched girl became calm as soon as Alden put a finger on her. Bartholomew Gedney said he'd known Alden for 2 years and  they had sailed together and were business associates. Gedney said that he had always looked on Alden as an honest man but now he had to alter his judgment. He couldn't disregard the touch test. (One wonders how anyone could NOT disregard such an illogical and unfair test of guilt!) Even fellow church member Samuel Sewall did not step forward to his defense although the Sewall family had trusted Alden to sail their ships across the ocean.

Alden was certain that God would clear his name. He swore that he, like Job, would maintain his integrity until he died.

When he was ordered to look at his accusers, they tumbled to the ground. He asked why his gaze had no such effect on Gedney. He then spoke passionately about the plight of the innocents, but was silenced by Reverend Noyes. Alden swore that there wasn't a bit of truth to the accusations.

Logic and truth were not to prevail this day. God did not clear his name. Judged guilty, John Alden found himself locked in a Boston prison later that same evening.

By mid September, he managed to escape from prison just before the killing of 9 convicted witches. It is believed that he may have first hid from the authorities in Duxbury where he would have found willing accomplices. Duxbury had been home to his parents John (senior) and Priscilla Alden and the extended Alden family. He may have joined other fugitives in New York, but one gets the sense that there wasn't much of a search made for him.

Alden House, Duxbury, Massachusetts
Photo by Graham Barnard, 1999
By December it was generally known that he had returned to Boston. When he failed to show up at his church for communion on December 18, it was speculated that he no longer trusted his friends and fellow church members. Reverend Willard's wife spoke out about this, holding Judge Sewall responsible. Several months later, Sewall called on the Aldens saying he regretted their troubles and was delighted by Alden's rehabilitation. Few others followed this lead.

After the witch hysteria died down and the killings stopped, John Alden returned to Salem where he was cleared by proclamation of all charges of witchcraft in April of 1693.

John Alden died in March 1702 with his sometimes-friend Judge Stephen Sewall at his side. His tombstone was found generations later during excavations near Boston's Old South Church and is now preserved on the outside wall of the church.

John Alden's Headstone
Image from
Courtesy David Allan Lambert

Other Family Connections to the Witchcraft Hysteria

  • John Alden's father, John senior, had himself been part of a Plymouth jury in a witch trial. In that case, the jury had found the accused person to be innocent, with the accuser being found guilty of libel and punished accordingly. 
  • Several other family members were likely living out their lives in Salem during the time of the witchcraft hysteria: Mary Cook Moulton, Benjamin Green, John Green, Joseph Green, Martha Green, Sarah Green, Thomas Green, Thomas Greene, Martha Moulton, Robert Moulton, Mary (Newbury) Green and David Perkins. Fortunately, they seem to have avoided being caught up in the witchcraft hysteria in any named capacity, but it must have been a bewildering and terrifying time for anyone living there. 
  • Other more distant but associated family members that do show up in the witchcraft records include Israel Stoughton, Thomas Perkins, Mehitabel Downing and Simon Bradstreet.

Further Reading:

  • "John Alden's Account of His Witch Trial Examination",website at
  • "Salem Witch Trials", University of Virginia website at
  • Schiff, Stacy, The Witches: Salem, 1692, Little, Brown and Company 2015
  • Roser, Susan E, Mayflower Increasings 2nd Edition, Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc. 1995

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Robert Moulton (1644-1731) lived in Salem, Massachusetts during the Witch Trials

When I noticed that my family tree contained more than two dozen people living in early Salem, Massachusetts, I could not help but wonder if any of them had any connection to the infamous witch trials of 1692. Were any of them among those executed or unfairly accused? Or, perhaps worse, were any among the accusers? I was delighted to find one ancestor who swore evidence in support of one of the accused, so I will start with that story today and investigate other possible connections over the next few weeks.

Robert Moulton was my 7th great grandfather. His father was also Robert Moulton (1607-1665) and his grandfather likewise Robert Moulton (1587-1655). It was Robert's grandfather who had emigrated from Ormsby St. Michael, Norfolk, England in 1629, bringing with him his grown son Robert who was a Church of England minister. This older immigrant ancestor was a master shipbuilder who was said to have been the first well-equipped shipbuilder to arrive in New England, building the first vessels that were built in Salem and in Medford, near Boston. Son Robert attempted unsuccessfully to establish the English church in Salem, but this was not in accord with the prevailing Puritan beliefs in New England.  Both men were active in community affairs, politics and business matters. Clearly the family were upstanding and well-respected members of the community.

The Robert of our story was the first of my direct Moulton line born on American soil, in Salem, Massachusetts in 1644. He was the second child and oldest son of Robert and Abigail (Good) Moulton. On 17 July 1672, 28 year-old Robert married Mary Cooke and started a family of his own. By the time of the 1692 witch hysteria, they had a family of eight children.

Map of Salem Village 1692
Public Domain,

First, a bit of background. There were two towns associated with the "Salem" witch trials: Salem Town and a fast-growing farming area at its northern end called Salem Village (now called Danvers). The earliest events of 1692 started in Salem Village, which contained some 500 people at the time. There would have been another 1500 or so living in Salem Town. The Village had established its own church in 1672, the same year that Robert and Abigail were married. None of its earliest ministers were ordained resulting in a good deal of instability. Late in 1689, the church finally obtained an ordained minister named Reverend Samuel Parris. Parris had spent time in Barbados and brought to Salem with him a couple of Carib Indian servants; they would have had knowledge of voodoo practices and told tales of witchcraft to the Parris daughters. Things went well with Reverend Parris at the Salem Church at first, but because of his strict religious orthodoxy, dissent soon arose. The Village found itself in turmoil within a couple of years. It is perhaps not surprising to learn that the earliest witch accusations arose in Parris's own home. Starting in February of 1692 with three young girls who experienced fits, over the next few months some 200 people were accused of witchcraft, many were tried and twenty executed.

Closeup of southwest corner of map of Salem Village showing location
of Robert Moulton's home (#138, circled in turquoise)
Salem was certainly not the only place where people were executed as witches. In those days, people in many parts of Europe and North America believed in witchcraft. Many believed the Devil himself was here on Earth. When unusual events occurred,  in the absence of an accepted scientific explanation, a person could be accused of having used sorcery or being in league with Satan. The accused were most often those already sidelined in their societies - the eccentrics and misfits, the ugly, the mentally ill. Women were accused more often than men and spinsters and barren women were an easy target, especially if they were willful or outspoken. In Salem, however, several men and pillars of the community also found themselves among the accused.

One such pillar of the community was a 71 year-old wife, mother and grandmother named Rebecca (Towne) Nurse. Always a pious and well-respected woman, she was nevertheless accused of being a witch. The Nurse family had been in a number of acrimonious disputes with the neighbouring Putnam family. On 23 March 1692, she was arrested on the basis of charges made against her by Edward and John Putnam. She protested her innocence and many in the community did come to her support, but several young girls (including Reverend Parris's daughter Betty and a young Ann Putnam) swooned with fits that they said were caused by Nurse tormenting them.

One of those who gave evidence on Nurse's behalf was my 7th great grandfather Robert Moulton. He testified that one of her young accusers named Susannah Sheldon had admitted to lying.

Testimony of Robert Moulton in the Trial of Rebecca Nurse

As with all the accused witches, she was not allowed a lawyer and had to defend herself. The examining magistrates Jonathan Corwin and John Hathorne seemed sympathetic to her cause. Even the Governor of Massachusetts at one point issued a reprieve. Nonetheless, when the swooning fits of the young girls continued, Rebecca Nurse was ultimately convicted as a witch, excommunicated from the church and sentenced to death by hanging on 19 July 1692.

Rebecca Nurse in Chains
By Freeland A. Carter, artist - The Witch of Salem, or Credulity Run Mad, by John R. Musick.
New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1893. p. 275. See [1], Public Domain,

It would be several years before the Putnam family, the church and the government issued apologies and attempted to make reparation for the wrongful death of Rebecca Nurse. Although Robert Moulton's testimony had not changed her tragic fate, at least he had had the courage to stand on the side of one of the innocents.

Sources and Further Reading:

  • Salem Witch Trials in History and Literature website located at
  • History of the Salem Witch Trials located at
  • "Gran's Family History" blog located at
  • "The Salem Witch Trials" website located at

Friday, 26 February 2016

My Family History from the American Civil War

Once upon a time, as a civil war raged in their country, four men joined hundreds of thousands of others by signing up to fight for the just cause. None of the four died on the battlefield and eventually they returned home where they all lived happily ever after.

But that isn't quite the way it turned out, as you shall see.

The American Civil War (1861-1865) marked a dark chapter in the history of the United States. About the same number of American soldiers died during the Civil War as have died from all other American wars combined.

The first two stories below are about my second and third great grandfathers who served as Union soldiers. The other two men, also Union soldiers, are not blood relatives being related to me only through marriage to my second great grandmother. However, their stories are an important part of my family history and it will be seen that the death of the one man really enabled the existence of my whole branch of the tree.

All four men were older than the norm at the time of their enlistment (Christian Hoover especially so) and all suffered health complaints for the rest of their lives as a result of the conditions they encountered during their service. Since discovering the Civil War records for these men, I have become much more interested in the details of soldiers' lives during their war service and the long-term effects it had on them and their families.

  • Christian Hoover (1809-1897) - served 1861-1862 as a private in Co. C, 11th Illinois Cavalry Regiment  

My third great grandfather Christian Hoover signed up early on in the War. His strong feelings against slavery likely served as his motivation.

Recruiting for the 11th Illinois Cavalry began in October of 1861, and recruits started going into camp at Camp Lyon, Peoria, Illinois about the beginning of November. Twelve full companies were recruited and mustered into the United States service by Captain Watson on 20 December 1861. Christian Hoover, actually age 52 but lying to shave 10 years of his age, was included in the group mustered and mounted that day. (The distinction between the cavalry that Christian Hoover served in and the infantry that the other three men served in is that although all road horses, infantry members dismounted to fight while cavalry remained mounted.)

The new recruits remained at Camp Lyon until 22 February 1862 when they broke camp and marched some 10 days to Benton Barracks, Missouri. There they were armed with revolvers and sabers. On 25 March the first Battalion embarked by boat to Tennessee and the remainder of the Regiment followed the next day. They landed at Crump's Landing and Pittsburg Landing on 1 April and set up camp.

The first actual fighting commenced on 6 April. Several men were killed and wounded that day and the next in what is known as the Battle of Shiloh. The Regiment was on duty up to the capture at Corinth and participated in the raid in which the railroad track was torn up at Purdie.

Although the Regiment would go on to see much additional action for the duration of the War, Christian Hoover's war ended with his discharge on account of disability making him unfit for duty on 1 July 1862. While participating in the Battle of Shiloh, Tennessee, he had contracted rheumatism, chronic diarrhoea and piles which caused him excruciating pain for the rest of his life. During the War, the 11th Regiment lost 2 officers and 32 enlisted men  as a result of military action while it lost 8 officers and 237 enlisted men to disease. The Civil War continued to take its toll for decades with men like Christian Hoover whose health would never recover.

Over the years, Christian and wife Mary suffered financially from his inability to work and attempted to get special increases in his pension claim.  Pensions for veterans who had suffered war-related disabilities (and their widows and children under 16) became available from 1862 onward, but by 1890, pensions were based on age and length of service. Disability seemed to continue to entitle one to additional benefits. One affidavit from Christian dated 23 January 1893 indicated that the $17/month pension was insufficient to keep them in medicine and incidental expenses. He was affiliated with the veterans group G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic) and local members rallied to provide some aid.

Tombstone of Christian Hoover - photo courtesy Jean Pinnick

Christian's illness eventually got the best of him and depression set in. On 15 December 1897 he ended his suffering by shooting himself in the head with a 32-calibre pistol, yet another (belated) casualty of the American Civil War.

A secondary victim of the War was Christian's widow Mary, left penniless and nearly blind in her old age.

  • George Garner Wescott (1836-1916) - served 1864-1865 as a private in Co. D, 12th Regiment, Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry
With the average age of a Civil War soldier being 18, they were often referred to as "boys". My 2nd great grandfather George Garner Wescott didn't enlist at the beginning of the Civil War, but waited until 1864 to do so. By then he was 28 years old, considerably older than average.

The procedure for enlisting involved a local community "Captain" who would recruit about 100 boys from his area. At the beginning of the War, the period of enlistment was 3 months and the amount of training was minimal. Taverns in small towns usually had a ballroom which was converted into accommodations for the new recruits with 10 beds lined up on each side of the room. There was often an initiation into the "order" with much noise and high-jinx involved.

The first training would have occurred in their local areas with the Captain who had recruited them, after which they headed to Camp Randall, about a mile beyond the city of Madison, WI. The recruits were housed in conical tents set on raised wooden floors, 20 men to a tent. There was barely room for them to sleep. There was a hole in the centre of the tents, bricked at the bottom and sides and covered with a sheet of iron for a fire. There was no way to control the heat; often men would be soaked with perspiration in the tent and then head out into the frigid cold for training drills or guard duty. Like Christian Hoover, so many of the men developed a condition labelled "rheumatism" with painful swollen joints, blaming their condition on those early tent heaters.

A couple of years before George joined up, the 12th had left Wisconsin for Kansas in January of 1862. They travelled by train (sometimes in hay cars) and sometimes by steamer, but often marched for days on end. Notwithstanding being called "infantry", there is little mention made of riding horses. Many of the men ended up with frostbite. They weren't always well supplied with food or tents and sometimes had to sleep on the ground in the mud and snow. Diarrhea was common.

One rainy night they were called out and formed up in front of their Colonel Bryant's tent. The Colonel had a newspaper in hand and, with tears rolling down his cheeks, he read them the account of the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee in which many Wisconsin men known to them had died. (It may be noted that this was one of the few battles in which my other ancestor Christian Hoover from Illinois had taken part.)

The 12th eventually also made its way to Tennessee. While in Memphis, many of the men contracted smallpox. The company took an active role in the Vicksburg Campaign of 1863. By July they were attached to the Third Brigade, 4th Division, 16th Army Corps but temporarily attached to the 13th as they began the expedition to Jackson. The weather was hot and sultry and many of the men dropped with heat exhaustion. The group also took part in the Meridian Campaign early in 1864. After over 2 years and some 400 miles of marching, fighting and destroying railroads, their uniforms were disintegrating. Shabby soldiers were without shoes and some even without trousers. With new recruits arriving, the veterans were sent home on much-needed furlough.

George Wescott - not clear whether this is George Garner or another of the George Wescotts
One of those new recruits was  Private George Garner Wescott who signed up to join Company "D" of the 12th Wisconsins on 15 October 1864 at Milwaukee. George left wife Sarah and three young children behind. His record indicates that he was 5 feet 5 inches tall, blue-eyed and black-haired. Interestingly, he enlisted as "Garner Westcott" and his record points out that the surname was sometimes given as "Wescott". It is believed that he enlisted under his unusual middle name to differentiate himself from the more ubiquitous "George" since there was at least one other George Wescott listed. (Cousin Jack Brown recently found evidence that George was named for an uncle named George Gardiner Wescott, with the name "Gardiner" being the maiden name of a maternal ancestor.)

George entered the War in time to participate battles at Orangebury, Columbia and Fayetteville, North Carolina and in Sherman's famous "March to the Sea" through Georgia late in 1864. An excellent Civil War website with more information about the various battles can be found through this link.

Fortunately for George (and his descendants), the war ended early in 1865. George took part in the Grand Review of the armies in Washington, D.C. on 24 May 1865 shortly after the assassination of President Lincoln. George returned home, mustering out at Madison on 16 July 1865. He returned to his life of farming and carpentering. He and Sarah went on to have five more children, including my great grandmother Mary Jane ("Mayme") Wescott.

In his Claimant's Affidavit in support of his Civil War Pension application, filed in 1890, George says that he has been afflicted with Rheumatism and Kidney Complaint (contracted in the U.S. Service) "and have been afflicted with the same ever since my discharge from the Service. But thought I would never apply for a Pension as long as I could earn a living for myself and Family, with their assistance. My Family are all grown up and their own masters and I cannot look to them for assistance. That I am often laid up for days and weeks at a time, wholly unable to do any manual labor by reason of Rheumatism and Kidney Complaint. Can safely say that I have not been able to do one fourth of an ordinary man's labor since my discharge from the Service."

His neighbor John Taggart swore an affidavit in support of his 1890 application, saying that he'd known him to suffer from rheumatism and lame back for 25 years. Another neighbor, Alfred Aspinall, swore that he had known Wescott since 1860 at which time he had been sound and able-bodied. Aspinall went on to say that after the war, he noticed he was a different man physically, troubled with rheumatism and kidney trouble. The surgeon's certificate confirmed rheumatism and kidney trouble and also mentioned heart problems and indicated that overall his general condition was poor. He weighed 133 pounds at the time and was 55 years of age. George's application was accepted.

George died of heart failure 19 May 1916 at age 80. His accrued pension of $22.50 was paid out to widow Sarah in 1916. By then, Sarah was making her own application for a Widow's Pension. The confusion over her husband's names continued to haunt the process and necessitated additional documentation and correspondence, but she did receive a widow's pension until her own death in 1932.

Other Wescotts in the War

George Garner was not the only Wescott who went off to fight. There were three other Westcotts who had also served in the same unit as George: Ananias, Willet and Erskine Westcott - all three had been discharged for disability prior to the end of the War.

George's first cousin Morgan Ebenezer Wescott served in Co.E of the 17th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry. Ebenezer signed up at the age of 17 and truly was one of the "boys".

Morgan Ebenezer Wescott
Photo provided by paulj on Find a Grave website
Ebenezer's letters home to his mother during the War were later published by him in 1909 as a book called "Civil War Letters, 1861 to 1865". These letters are fascinating for the detail they offer about daily life of the soldiers as well as for how freely he was able to describe what was going on in the War without being censored. His first letter was from Camp Randall, Madison, Wisconsin dated 19 January 1862. On 28 June 1862, his letter from Corinth, Mississippi contained the following: "There is a good deal of sickness among the troops and it is on account of bad water. We have to go to the Tuscumbia river after water and that is several miles away. The water is hauled in wagons. Each company has a barrel and the team (6 mules) to go twice a day and when we get the water it is not fit to drink. We have lost three men of our company by sickness. Mother, you thought when I came away from home that I was so young that I could not stand the hardships. Well, the boys stand it better than the old men. Not one of the boys in our company has been sick as yet."

In another letter to his parents from Vicksburg, Mississippi on 20 June, Ebenezer described how they were so close to the enemy's position that neither side dared show their heads above the sandbags topping their pits. During the day, they were on their guard, "but at night we sometimes have a picnic." He described how they would start up a conversation, calling each other "Yank" or "Johnny" and deciding to get together for a friendly chat, albeit with rifles in hand. "There are usually six or eight of us together, and two or three will meet them half way between the rifle pits, and sometimes talk for two hours. They are just as sociable and friendly as if we were brothers. They always want coffee and we give them some, if we have it, and we generally have some, and when we part they will never shoot until they say, "Hello, Yank! You in your hole yet?" We answer, "Yes." "All right then." Maybe they blaze away a dozen or more shots and we do the same. What do you think of that?"

Ebenezer's letters also described how they would never help themselves to the abundant Southern fruit, watermelon and sweet potatoes, "except it happens to be in our way and we make it convenient to have it in our way." At Beaufort, South Carolina, they all enjoyed the oysters from the beach. But they weren't just there to enjoy the food and he described marching through swamp with water hip-deep and how difficult it was to find a dry place large enough to lay down at night, "but the boys don't grumble."

Despite his youth, Ebenezer eventually did get sick near the end of the War. He was hospitalized but returned home to his parents. The next year he married and started his own family and lived until the age of 81.

  • Lewis C. Edwards (c.1834-1866) - served 1862-1865 in Company "C" of the 112th Regiment of Illinois Volunteer Infantry

On 24 October 1861 in Henry County, Illinois, my widowed 2nd great grandmother Barbara Hoover married as her second husband a widower named Lewis Edwards. This was the same month that recruiting for soldiers in the War was beginning in Illinois. Barbara's father Christian Hoover had signed up almost immediately.

Lewis had been born about 1834 in Frank Town, Huntingdon County (now Frankstown, Blair County), Pennsylvania. His first wife Mary had died 28 September 1860. No record has been found of any children for Lewis and Mary.

Newlywed Lewis waited until the summer of 1862 after President Lincoln called for an additional 300,000 soldiers before signing up for a 3 year term. He enlisted as a Private in Company "C" of the 112th Regiment of Illinois Volunteer Infantry.

At Peoria, the men received uniforms, equipment and some training. Unlike many other regiments, the officers were elected by the men. By October they left for Cincinnati and preparation for active service in the field. The men spent the first of many nights spreading out their blankets and sleeping on the ground under the stars. Most of the "transportation" was done on foot, marching from one place to the next. Foraging for food was common. Water supplies were not always reliable. The 112th remained in camp at Lexington over the winter, which was a miserable damp one. Many of the men became ill. By March 1863, 300 of the men in the regiment were ill and 32 had died from illness. It does not appear that they had yet seen any "action".

Their first encounter with the rebels occurred in Kentucky and was a fairly civilized and bloodless affair. While on reconnaissance, about 25 men of the 112th under the command of Captain Dow were surrounded and taken prisoner by a group of 250 Rebel cavalry under the command of Captain Morgan. The Rebels took their hats, coats, boots, gloves and all valuables before allowing them to return to the Union side. The next day, a smaller group of the same Rebels was surrounded by Union forces and Captain Dow was able to get his gloves returned by Captain Morgan with thanks for their use. Lewis Edwards was not listed among the men involved in these almost-friendly skirmishes.

In fact, Lewis Edwards was reported as having "deserted" at Lexington, Kentucky on 1 January 1863. It turned out that he had not, in fact, deserted, but had been in hospital at the time. He was one of the many men who had fallen ill during that first miserable winter. Additional medical records show that he was admitted to the hospital at Camp Nelson, Kentucky on 18 April 1864 for stomach problems and furloughed to his regiment 26 September 1864. Again on 12 May 1865 he was admitted to the hospital at Camp Douglas near Chicago, Illinois until his discharge from service 31 July 1865.  It seems that he had contracted tuberculosis from which he never recovered. His Certificate of Disability for Discharge was dated 6 July 1865 in Camp Douglas, Illinois stated that he was totally disabled as a result of pneumonia contracted while in Service.

Affidavits filed in support of his widow Barbara's pension application made for herself and for their twin daughters Minnie/Mary and Grace/Martha imply that Lewis's health had continually declined. Samuel Blackfan swore that he had known Lewis before he went into the army and that he "knew him to be a man of robust figure, and have good reason to believe he possessed good health up to the time he enlisted." He went on to say that he didn't see him after his return home until shortly before his death, that he was present at his death and assisted in preparing the body for burial. He said that "his body was in a very emaciated condition and indicated that he had been sick for a considerable length of time."

It is questionable whether Lewis Edwards actually sired any children. His first wife Mary Harbison had died, apparently childless, in 1860 at age 30. Although Barbara had given birth to one son Samuel in her first marriage, she did not become pregnant during the 10 or so months of marriage to Lewis prior to his departure for War. The year given for the birth of his supposed twin daughters 28 November of 1865 or 1866 is inconsistent in the records and may well have been sometimes slanted toward the earlier year in an attempt to obtain orphans' pensions for the two daughters. If they were actually born in 1866, it would have been a bit more than 9 months after Lewis's death. One has to wonder whether he would have been capable of fathering a child given his severe disability and failing health even if they were conceived early in 1865 and born later that year. He is said to have been home on furlough in February of 1865. If the twins were born in November of 1865, it would have been after Lewis was sent home to die, but Barbara gave birth to them at her sister's home in a completely different state. Why leave her dying husband? It is all a bit of a mystery.

In any event, Lewis definitely was NOT the father of Barbara's youngest son, my great grandfather Charles F. Edwards who was born in Keokuk, Iowa in February 1869, a full three years after Lewis's death. Although we don't know who Charles's father actually was, it would have been unlikely that Barbara would have developed a relationship with this unnamed man had Lewis lived.

Union Gravestone for Lewis Edwards at Western Township Cemetery near Orion, Henry County, Illinois
Photo by Craig Otto from Find a Grave website

  • George W. Payton (c.1820-1893) - served 1862-1865 in Company "B" of the 33rd Regiment of Iowa Infantry Volunteers

Meanwhile, in Iowa, on 9 August 1862, a man named George Payton (senior) enrolled for service as a Private with Company "B" of the 33rd Regiment of Iowa Infantry Volunteers. He was 42 years old when he enlisted. A large man at 6 feet tall and weighing over 200 pounds, he had sandy hair and hazel/grey eyes. 

There was a George W. Payton (junior), age 23, who also enlisted in Company "B" of the 33rd Regiment. Given George Senior's age, this is probably his son. There were possibly other children as well. The younger George was captured and later paroled in February 1863 at Yazoo Pass, Arkansas.

In October of 1862, George senior contracted smallpox near St. Louis, Missouri. From then until January 1863 he was treated at Bloody Island, near St. Louis. The disease settled in his eyes, partially blinding him and making him unfit for further military action. He served as orderly to General Rice until Rice's death in 1864 and then served with the Quartermaster, often driving ambulances. He was honorably discharged at the end of the War on 17 July 1865 in New Orleans. George junior mustered out the same day and place.

George senior went on to have several more children after the War: Robert born 1866, Jacob born 1868 and Mary born 1870. His wife died sometime between 1870-1873. According to Affidavits filed in his Pension Application, he returned from the War suffering from impaired eyesight and painful eyes and was unable to perform a full day's labour after his return.

He eventually received a pension for the disease of the eyes that he suffered as a result of smallpox contracted during the War.

Widowed Barbara Hoover Edwards (under the name Margaret Alice Edwards) married widower George W. Payton on 18 August 1873 in What Cheer, Keokuk County, Iowa. By then George would have been in his early 50's and needing assistance with many of his daily activities. George was a friend or at least an acquaintance of Barbara's family for some years prior to this. Barbara's sister Kate (Hoover) Lefler had helped look after him upon his return from the War and Barbara's father Doctor Christian Hoover had given him treatment for his eyes and both swore Affidavits in support of George's Pension Application.

Civil War gravestone for George W. Payton, Burlingame City Cemetery
Photo Courtesy Jean Pinnick of Find a Grave website
Whether this was a marriage for George and Barbara's mutual convenience rather than a love match can be surmised. Certainly George needed a care-giver and Barbara needed the respectability of a husband. The two ran a boarding house, but it seems that George wasn't living with her in Independence, Kansas, at the time of her death from a tumor in 1890. No mention is made of him in her obituaries although he outlived her by some three years. Barbara's burial location cannot be located, but she does not seem to be with George at Burlingame, Kansas.

Final Thoughts:

It has been said that for every 3 men killed on the Civil War battlefield, 5 died of disease. Medical care was rudimentary. Sanitation was mostly absent. Emotional trauma was not recognized then as it is now, with the result that thousands of cases of post traumatic stress disorder went completely unreported and unrecognized.

Men like Christian Hoover, George Garner Wescott, Lewis Edwards and George Payton were typical of the men who signed up to fight for either side during the American Civil War. No doubt at some level all accepted that they were risking death on the battlefield. It is doubtful that they fully appreciated what hardships they would face in terms of food, clothing, sanitation, medical care and shelter during their service. It is even less likely that they foresaw that disease contracted during the War would so dramatically affect them and their families for decades to come. 


  • Singer, Peggy M. (ed.), "The Marching Twelfth - The Story of the Twelfth Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment as Told by the Men Who Served in It", Heritage Books 2007 (based on an unpublished group of stories collected by Hosea Rood, 1893)
  • Westcott, Morgan Ebenezer, "Civil War Letters, 1861-1865 - Written by a Boy in Blue to his Mother", 1909 
  • Illinois Regimental and Unit Histories website accessed 29 September 2015 at
  • Civil War website accessed 29 September 2015 at
  • Civil War Pension application files for George Garner Wescott, Christian Hoover, George Payton and Lewis Edwards, National Archives, Washington, DC
  • Thompson, B. F. (late Captain of the Regiment),"History of the 112th Regiment of Illinois Volunteer in the Great War of the Rebellion 1862-1865", Toulon, Illinois, 1885; full text accessed online on 22 February 2016 at

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Christian Hoover (1776-1850) (52 Ancestors Week 52) Theme: "Resolution"

When asked about her ancestry, my maternal grandmother Idella Edwards always mentioned the "Pennsylvania Dutch". This Pennsylvania Dutch line was through her father Charles Edwards' maternal Hoover line.

When Iowa genealogist Alice Hoyt Veen discovered Charles's mother to be Barbara Hoover, early online searches led me to believe that perhaps we could follow these ancestors back through George Hoover to immigrant Andreas Hoover (or Huber) who emigrated to America in about 1758 from Ellerstad, Bad Durkheim in what is now Germany.

Further research, however, has led me to doubt this connection. The repetitious use of the names Andreas/Andrew, George,  Christian, Philip and Samuel have created much confusion around who is part of which family. Resolution of this matter remains elusive as 2015 draws to a close. For this reason, I will focus on Barbara's grandfather (my 4th great grandfather) Christian Hoover, a connection of which I am more confident.

Christian Hoover was born in Pennsylvania 10 February 1776. At around the age of 20 he married Maria Barbara Harmon, daughter of Christian Harmon and Christina (or Anna) Magdalena Lenhard. The couple had at least 5 children: Samuel born 1796, George born 1799, Catherine born 1800, Philip born 1802, and Christian (my 3rd great grandfather) born 1809. The family were members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church at Crooked Creek in 1810.

The 1820 census for Plum Creek, Armstrong County, PA lists Christian Hoover with the total number of family members being 7. Ten years later, he is still in Plum Creek; he and his wife's ages are both given as between 50 and 60; there is one male under 5, one male 10-15 and one 20-30 as well as one female between 10-15.

Location of Plum Creek, PA
Google Earth Image
We don't know much about the particular details of their lives in Plum Creek, Armstrong County, PA, but Christian would eventually die there on 20 February 1850 just after his 74th birthday; his wife outlived him by a couple of decades. He is buried at Saint John Lutheran Cemetery, Sagamore, Armstrong County, PA.

Photo Courtesy Burke Stoughton
Find A Grave website

Christian and Maria Barbara were part of the group called the "Pennsylvania Dutch". Contrary to how it sounds, this does NOT mean they were from Holland. Rather, it refers to early German-speaking immigrants to Pennsylvania and their descendants. To say that they were "from Germany" is also not correct, since Germany did not exist as a country at the time. The majority of them came from what is today southwestern Germany, the Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-Wurttenberg region, while others were Swiss, Alsatians and French Protestant Huguenots. They traditionally spoke the language known as Pennsylvania German or "Deutsch". This group of settlers arrived in America in waves in the late 17th century through the 18th century.

Area for Origins of Pennsylvania Dutch Emigrants
Google Earth Image
They were not all of one religious affiliation. As we know, Christian's family were Lutheran, the most common group. Others might have been Reformed or Anabaptist and some were Mennonite and Amish. Many were persecuted in Germany for their Protestant religious beliefs.

In addition to religious persecution, the area from which they came was ground zero for numerous wars over the years. During the Thirty Years War and again during the War of the Grand Alliance, troops ravaged the area, burning homes and crops, pillaging and plundering. The result was similar to what is happening today in war-ravaged regions - thousands, if not millions, of refugees.

To add to the misery, the winter of 1708-9 was the harshest for 100 years. Many of the vineyards and farms suffered severe losses. At the invitation of Queen Anne of England, the first wave of refugees sailed down the Rhine to Rotterdam. The intention was to head to Pennsylvania, but some found themselves in England or Ireland. Eventually, some 32,000 of the refugees took advantage of the offer, but the English couldn't handle any more and issued a Royal proclamation in German that any immigrants arriving after October 1709 would be sent back where they came from. (Once again one is reminded of today's Syrian refugee situation with borders being closed to those trying to escape.) There is no indication that our Hoovers were included in this first group.

Pennsylvania under Quaker William Penn was a much more welcoming place than most. As a result, as further waves of German-speaking immigrants made their way down the Rhine and across the Atlantic, that was most often the destination of choice. We don't know if our Hoovers arrived directly in Pennsylvania where we first find Christian and his family. We don't know if it was Christian's parents, or, more likely, his grandparents, who made the journey across the ocean.

Whichever family members were the immigrants, they would have made their way down the Rhine to Rotterdam. The passage down the Rhine itself took 4 to 6 weeks, with tolls and fees being demanded at every turn. (Again, one is reminded of today's refugees enduring extortionate rates to sail to freedom.)

The Pennsylvania Dutch settled primarily in the southeastern and south central part of the State. By the time of the American Revolution, nearly half the population of Pennsylvania consisted of the Pennsylvania Dutch. They tended to side with the Patriots, but many (including some Hoovers) refused on religious grounds to take part in the fighting.

This posting closes my "52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks" for 2015 with the Pennsylvania Dutch ancestry being unresolved. My New Year's Resolutions must include finding parents and grandparents for Christian Hoover and finding where they came from in the area that is now Germany.


  • Find a Grave website for Christian Hoover
  • Wikipedia Article on "Pennsylvania Dutch" accessed 4 December 2015
  • "Palatine Germans to America - their History of Immigration" accessed online 4 December 2015 at
  • Jim Sutcliffe pedigree chart first provided 8 August 2010
  • Kris Hocker website on the Hoovers at
  • US and International Marriage Records, 1560-1900 on
  •, Pennsylvania, Compiled Census and Census Substitutes Index, 1772-1890

Saturday, 19 December 2015

John Machell (1509-1558) (52 Ancestors Week 51) Theme: "Nice"

The holiday season is traditionally a time for getting dressed up nicely to go out on the town. It seemed like a good week to feature my 11th great grandfather John Machell of London, England, who was, among other things, a haberdasher. Don't let the simplicity of that job title fool you - John was not just a shopkeeper!

Even the name "haberdasher" evokes nice images of refined dressing. A haberdasher is someone who sells small items for sewing, things like ribbons and buttons, and can also be a dealer in men's furnishings such as suits and shirts. Sadly, we don't have haberdashers, as such, in Canada today.

No, this isn't John Machell, but is representative of men's fashions in Tudor times
Portrait of a Young Man by unknown artist, in the Public Domain  from Wikimedia Commons
John Machell was born about 1509 and led a nice, if short, life. By the time he was 40, he was a wealthy wool merchant living at the elegant red brick Tudor-style Sutton House which had been built a decade or so earlier by Sir Ralph Sadleir, one of Henry VIII's Privy Councillors. The house is considered today to be haunted. Dogs are often heard wailing in the dead of night. These are thought to be the dogs that belonged to John Machell when he lived there. Whenever dogs come into Sutton House, they often stop short at the foot of the staircase, hackles raised, staring at something on the staircase invisible to the human eye. Another ghost is thought to be that of John's daughter-in-law who died giving birth to twins in 1574. The house is now restored and under the auspices of the National Trust; a visit would seem to be in order.

Sutton House, Hackney, London September 2005
Photographer : Fin Fahey, Wikimedia Commons

John married Joan Lodyngton, daughter of Henry Lodyngton and Joan Kyrby. They had three sons - John Machell the younger, Matthew (my 10th great grandfather) who was born about 1535 and Thomas, the youngest.

John was obviously a successful businessman. He was Master of the Clothworkers' Guild 1547, Auditor of the Clothworkers' Guild 1551-3, Alderman of the City of London 1556-8 and Sheriff of London 1555-6. The position of Sheriff of London today entails only nominal duties, but in John's time, it would have meant that he was expected to attend the judges at the Central Criminal Court Old Bailey and take on judicial responsibilities. Two sheriffs were elected each year, one of whom was an alderman (like John) and eventually that person was expected to become the Lord Mayor of London. This didn't happen in John's case - perhaps because he was not a well man by that time.

John Machell died in August of 1558.

Funerals at the time were elaborate events steeped in rules of pageantry. Each person's status determined what position in the procession he or she would occupy and what colours and items of clothing they were expected to wear. No doubt the haberdashers were kept very busy outfitting people properly for these events.

Thanks to an informative contemporary history written by fellow clothworker Henry Machyn, we know that John's corpse would have been covered with a pall of black velvet, borne by yeomen in black coats and assisted by gentlemen in gowns and hoods. The order observed by the Lord Mayor, the Aldermen and Sheriffs for their meetings and wearing of their apparel throughout the year was printed in Stowe's Survey and stated that the following was to be worn for the burial of an Alderman (such as John) as the "last love, duty and ceremony one to another": the Aldermen were to wear their violet gowns, except such as have black gowns or mourning. When an Alderman died, the master Swordbearer was to have a black gown and to carry the Sword in black before the Lord Mayor. The Master Chamberlain was not to wear his tippet (long ceremonial scarf) unless the Lord Mayor or Aldermen wore their scarlet or violet. For John's funeral, the arms were described as "Per pale argent and sable, three grey-hounds courant counterchanged, collared gules."

Machyn describes the offices that John had held and added that he was married to "Jone", daughter of Harry Lodyngton who then remarried to Sir Thomas Chamberlen, knight, and died herself 28 April 1565.

John had made his will on 26 July 1558 "in the 5th and 6th years of the reign of our sovereign Lord and Lady King Philip and Queen Mary." (Catholic Queen Mary I would herself die just four months later.) He obviously knew that he would be entitled to a special funeral for he makes this comment in the preamble to his will: "And my body to be buried in Christian burial after a decent and convenient order according to my Estate degree and vocation as shall be thought meet and convenient by my overseers."

He left one-third of his estate to be divided equally by his children, one-third for specific legacies (many to the poor and to his extended family) and the remaining one-third to his "well beloved wife Joan Machell". The estates that Joan received for her lifetime over and above any jointure or dower to which she would be entitled included among others the manor of Guilden Sutton in the County of Chester and all other lands there, his manor of Burneshed with the appurtenances in the County of Westmorland and all his lands in Hinton in the County of Southhampton and Dorset. His land holdings were extensive resulting in a will that went on for several pages. His three sons were left his jewellery including gold chains, rings and brooches. Quite clearly John Machell had led a very nice life indeed.


  • 573.html
  • "The Diary of Henry Machyn, Citizen and Merchant Tailor of London from AD 1550 to 1563" accessed online 4 December 2015 at
  • "Aldermen of the City of London" website accessed online 4 December 2015 at
  • Will of John Machell posted to by MerilynPedrick63 based on transcription done by Bridget Machell 2011 accessed 4 December 2015

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Captain George Denison (1620-1694) (52 Ancestors Week 50) My Theme: "December"

Wife of Captain George Denison - my 9th great grandmother Ann Borodell

My 9th great grandfather George Denison was the second son of that name born North of London in Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire, England to William Denison and Margaret Chandler. He was baptised there 395 years ago this week on 10 December 1620. The first George had been born in 1609 and had died in 1614 as a young child. This second George would have a longer and more vigourous life, living into his 70's.

Location of Bishop's Stortford
Image from Google Earth
Young George had an early adventure when he crossed the Atltantic aboard the Lion with his parents and two brothers as part of the "Great Migration". There were many other children making the journey and no doubt the boys, being boys, found much entertainment. He was eleven years old when he arrived in Roxbury, Massachusetts. The early church in Roxbury records his father William as its 3rd member and names William's sons Daniel, Edward and George. Daniel had been attending university at Cambridge when he was recalled by his father to join the family's migration. Edward was about 15. Another son John was in his mid-20's, had been educated at Cambridge and so decided to remain in England where he was a minister.

Accompanying the family on the voyage was George's tutor, the Reverend John Eliot. Education was obviously important to this family. They were quite well off and brought a good estate from England. Young George's early life in America was probably more comfortable than most. His father William held a number of public offices including Roxbury constable, Deputy to the General Court and committee member for inspection of ships.

Life in New England was never without controversy, however. William was one of five Roxbury men to be disarmed on 20 November 1637 for supporting Mr. Wheelwright and Mrs. Hutchinson. This was in regard to the Antinomian Controversy which raged in Puritan New England from 1636-1638. It pitted the majority of the Puritans against the adherents of a "covenant of grace" espoused by Cotton Mather and supported by Anne Hutchinson and her brother-in-law Reverend John Wheelwright. Apparently William Denison was also a supporter. The Antinomians were generally regarded as heretics against the established laws. Concepts of gender and politics added to the disagreement. We don't know whether George's mother Margaret was one of the numerous women who followed Anne Hutchinson's teachings. Eventually, the Antinomian leaders were tried and banished, so perhaps William was fortunate to have been only disarmed! Young George by then would have been a young man of about 17, but there is no mention of any involvement by him in this whole controversy.

We do know that George fell in love with a young woman named Bridget Thompson when he was about 19. He proposed to Bridget by writing her a love poem:

It is an ordinance, my dear, divine,
Which God unto the sons of men makes shine,
Even marriage, to that whereof I speak,
And unto you therein my mind I break.

In Paradise, oft Adam God did tell,
To be alone for man would not be well--
He in His wisdom, therefore, thought it right
To bring a woman into Adam's sight;

A helper that for him might be most meet,
To comfort him by her doing discreet.
I of that stock am sprung--I mean from him--
And also of that tree I am a limb.

A branch, tho' young, yet I do think it good
That God's great vow by man be not withstood;
Alone I am, a helper I would find,
That might give satisfaction to my mind.

The party that doth satisfy the same
Is Miss Bridget Thompson by her name;
God having drawn my affections unto thee,
My heart's desire is--that thine may be to me.

This with my blottings, tho' they trouble you,
Yet pass them by, because I know not how--
Though they at this time should much better be,
For love it is, that first has been to thee.

And I would wish that they much better were,
Therefore, I pray, accept them as they are,
So hoping my desire I shall obtain,
Your own true lover, I, George Denison by name.

From my father's house in Roxbury To Miss Bridget Thompson, 1640.

Miss Bridget obviously approved of his sentiments for marry they did. They went on to have two daughters, Sarah and Hannah, but Bridget died giving birth to Hannah in 1643.

George was devastated. He returned to England that same year and was a soldier under Cromwell, participating on the evening of 2 July 1644 in the Battle of Marston Moor where he did great service.

Battle of Marston Moor, English Civil War
Painting by John Barker in the Public Domain

He was slightly wounded, taken prisoner but was able to make his escape and rejoin the Parliamentarians. He was more seriously wounded on the morning of 14 June 1645 during the Battle of Naseby and was then sent to Cork, Ireland to recuperate at the home of John Borodell, a wealthy English leather merchant. Body and heart both mended when he fell in love with his nurse - John Borodell's beautiful daughter Ann (my 9th great grandmother). They were married shortly thereafter and returned to New England later in 1645.

It was said that George and Ann were known for their magnificent personal appearance as well as for force of mind and of character; she was always known as "Lady Ann" because of her personal attributes.

George and Ann had several children including  my 8th great grandmother Margaret Denison (1657-1741), John Borodell Denison (1646-1698), Ann Denison (1649-1706), George Denison (1653-1711) and William Denison (1655-1715). Their descendants are plentiful; George lived to see his family include 3 sons, 6 daughters and 58 grandchildren. On the television program "Finding Your Roots", Professor Gates uncovered the ancestry of comedian David Sedaris back to this family.

The couple lived in Roxbury near George's parents prior to moving to Connecticut - first joining John Winthrop, Jr. at New London on the Pequot River. This was done in an attempt by Massachusetts to claim control of the land that would eventually become eastern Connecticut. In 1651 George was named captain of the train band and was given a house with 6 acres of property; he established the defenses for the town. In appreciation for services rendered, he was given 200 acres east of the Mystic River in the town of Stonington (then called Southertown) where he surveyed the boundaries and laid out a road from the ford at the Pawcatuck to the ferry at the Thames. At first, he and Ann lived in a rough lean-to surrounded by a stout stockade for protection. (This is now the site of the historic Denison Homestead of Mystic, CT.) George was appointed "clerk of the writs".

Location of Stonington, CT
Google Earth Image

Even after the whole area was absorbed into Connecticut, George and his family remained there and he remained active in both military and civil affairs. His service included: Deputy to the General Court from both New London and Stonington, War Commission for New London in 1653, Captain during King Philip's War, second in command of the Connecticut army under Major Robert Treat. He was instrumental in the capture of Canonchet, helping to put an end to King Philip's War. It was said that as a soldier, no citizen of his day was more conspicuous except perhaps for John Mason.

He and Thomas Stanton set aside 8,000 acres of land for the scattered Pequot tribe as the first reservation. The Pequots, largely to their detriment, had sided with the English during King Philip's War.

George's estate grew. He was rewarded for his services with large land grants by both the Town of Stonington and the Colony of Connecticut. The Mohegan chief Oneco gave him a great feast and 2000 acres of tribal lands. The resulting peace enabled him to take down his stockade and build a great house where his wife Ann hosted famous dinner parties for family and friends. Life was good.

He died in Hartford, Connecticut 23 October 1694 while discharging his duties at the Massachusetts General Assembly. Ann would long outlive him, dying at the age of 97. Both are buried at the Ancient Burying Ground in Hartford.

Photograph of Tombstone for George Denison from the 1881 book
"A Record of the Descendants of Captain George Denison of Stonington, Conn."
  • Denison Homestead website located at
  • Anderson, Robert Charles, "The Great Migration Begins, Immigrants to New England, 1620-1633", Volume 1; Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1995
  • U.S and Canada, Passenger and Immigration Lists Index for William Denison, 1500's-1900's
  • "Some Descendants of Captain George Denison" accessed online at on 05/04/2009
  • Hurd, Hamilton D (comp.), "History of New London County, Connecticut, with Biographical Sketches of many of its Pioneers and Prominent Men", 1882; Philadelphia: Lewis & Co., accessed online at Google Books on 30 November 2015
  • Poem by Captain George Denison from Appendix in Baldwin, John Denison, "A Record of the Descendants of Captain George Denison of Stonington, Conn.", Worcester, Mass.: Tyler & Seagrave, 1881, 298 accessed online through Google Books on 30 November 2015

Friday, 4 December 2015

Anna Ericksdatter Elton (1849-1938) (Week 49) My theme: "Saudade"

Several years ago, my husband and I had the pleasure of sailing our boat through Gwaii Haanas Park on the southern end of Haida Gwaii (former Queen Charlotte Islands) off Canada's west coast. This National Park is unique in that it is jointly managed by Parks Canada and the Haida people. To oversee and protect the delicate ecology and history of their traditional territories (and sometimes to offer tours and talks to visitors), "Watchmen" are stationed at the various historic locations for a few weeks at a time. These are regular Haida people of all ages left in a very remote region with no television, roads, internet or cell phone coverage. Contact with the outside world is made by VHF radio in short conversations, which in their case meant using a list of shorthand "code" numbers. When we visited Hot Spring Island (before a 2012 earthquake put the three hot pools in jeopardy) two women were acting as Watchmen at the site. As we were the only visitors there that day, they kindly invited us to join them for lunch after we soaked in the hot pools. The thing that stands out in my mind (aside from the nice hot lunch that they shared with us) was how one woman was so badly missing her grandchildren back home. She had an ache in her heart that showed on her face and in her voice; she needed to see her grandchildren. Apparently she had called her supervisor using something like "code 9" on the VHF radio, but there really was no code number to effectively express her problem. There simply is no adequate word in English either.

I claim no Portuguese ancestors, but the Portuguese do have such a perfect word for this strong emotion - "saudade". Saudade describes a deep nostalgic or melancholic longing for an absent person or place that one loves deeply. Sometimes it can include the knowledge that you will never see that person or place again. I think it could even extend to family members one has never met. It can include terrible sadness and feelings of loss or absence, but it can also include the recollection of happy times past and bittersweet joyful recollections. If you have experienced it, you know that it is a much stronger emotion than merely missing someone; perhaps it most closely resembles a bad case of homesickness.

The closest thing in Norwegian (the mother language of my great grandmother Anna Elton) might be lengsel etter fravaerende familie.

Anna Elton c1890
Having children and grandchildren of my own in distant places sometimes leaves me with saudade of them. But I know I can talk to them on the telephone or by Skype or quite easily go to visit them. Such was not always the case for my ancestors. When they left their homelands to emigrate to America, they must have known in their hearts that they would probably never again see family, friends and the community they were leaving behind. Sometimes family groups travelled together and that no doubt eased some of the anguish, but even once in America, families often dispersed into new areas. Many people grew up never meeting their grandparents or aunts and uncles. Many grandparents never knew the joy of watching their grandsons and granddaughters grow up. Saudade must have been common. 

When my paternal grandparents decided to uproot and move across the border to homestead in Saskatchewan, Canada, it meant they were too far from their own parents in Minnesota to have them involved in their children's lives. The result was that my Dad only met only one of his 4 grandparents and that was during one single visit to Minnesota when he was just 4 years old. The grandparent he met was Anna Elton, his paternal grandmother ("bestemor" in Norwegian, or even more specifically, "farmor" to distinguish his father's mother from his mother's mother who would be his "mormor").

Anna (sometimes called "Annie") Ericksdatter Elton (sometimes spelled "Ellent" or "Elson" or "Eltun") was born in Vang, Valdres, Oppland, Norway on 14 March 1849.

Pin marks location of Vang, Oppland
Google Earth image

She was baptised 9 April 1849 at the local Lutheran church at Vang. The church was at that time quite new, having been completed just 10 years earlier. The church records also show her being vaccinated for smallpox on 19 September 1851 at the age of 2 3/4 years.

Vang Kirke
Photo Courtesy John Erling Blad on Wikimedia Commons

Øye i Vang in Valdres, Oppland, Norway
Photo courtesy John Erling Blad, Wikimedia Commons

When her parents Erick Anderson Elton and Sarah Holien emigrated to the United States in 1854, young Anna was listed in the church records as leaving for America with her family. She was 5 years old.

Her father died tragically the following year after being crushed by a falling tree. Times must have been very difficult for Sarah and her young family. We don't have any details of how they survived, but it has been suggested by a descendant of Erick's sister Sigrid Andrisdatter (who had come to America with her brother's family and who also became a young widow) that the sisters-in-law probably banded together for support. No doubt saudade was a common emotion for missing both their deceased husbands as well as their traditional family support systems back in Norway. But the women would have had to soldier on, day after day doing what it took to raise their children. This was the situation in which Anna grew up to young womanhood.

It appears that Anna gave birth to a son Erstein (or Steve) at Canon Falls, Renville County, MN in September of 1868 when she was 19. Unlike the Norwegian church records, American records do not provide us with the name of Steve's father. (The only surname ever associated with him was "Bardahl", the name of Anna's future husband. Even Steve's death certificate names Hans and Anna as his parents. However, it is highly unlikely that Hans was Steve's birth father since there would have been no reason for him not to marry Anna at the time of her pregnancy rather than waiting until 5 years later.)

In 1873, Anna married Hans Bardahl in Goodhue County, MN. The witnesses to their wedding give us some idea that Anna had been among extended family: her older half-brother Hans Asbjornsen was one witness and the surname given for the other witness was Elson, quite possibly also a relative or at least a close friend from Norway. The newlyweds soon moved to Renville County where they farmed and started their family.

Anna would give birth to 10 children over her lifetime, 7 of whom survived infancy. Sarah was born in 1876, my grandfather John in 1879, Ole in 1883, Susie in 1886, Hanna in 1887 and Ella in 1890.

Bardahl Family late 1890's: Top row left to right - Hannah, Ole, John, Susie;
Seated left to right - Sarah, Hans, Ella and Anna; Steve is absent

The same year that youngest daughter Ella was born, the family moved to Grant County where they farmed 3 miles south of Barrett, MN. Upon their retirement in 1918, Hans and Anna moved into the village where they were living when two of their young adult daughters, Susie and Hannah, died tragically in the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. Four years later Hans died too.

Anna age 81 with sons Ole and John, 1930
This was the only time that Anna met some of John's children
and she appears delighted to be with two of her three sons
After her husband's death, Anna continued for awhile to live in Barrett. At the time of the 1930 census, son Steve was living there with her; she owned her own house, valued at $2800 (which sounds low to us but this was the most valuable house listed on that page of the census).  It was in the early summer of 1930 that Anna's son John and some of his family made the visit during which my father Ken, age 4, got to meet his grandmother for the first and only time.

Kenneth Bardahl (age 4) lower left in front of his oldest sister Joetta;
2 Christenson cousins on right side during the visit to Minnesota in 1930

Anna Elton Bardahl summer 1930 with some of her grandchildren
Eventually she moved to live with her youngest daughter Ella and Henry Christenson, first in North Dakota and finally in Appleton, Swift County, Minnesota. Although she didn't get to see much of son John's children, she would have had other grandchildren to offer her joy.

Anna Elton Bardahl July 1935

Anna passed away 77 years ago this week on Saturday 3 December 1938 just before midnight at the Christenson home. Her death was attributed to old age (she was aged 89 years, 8 months and 19 days). Her obituary said that she and her husband Hans had been active members of the Lien Lutheran Church and that "their home radiated with true friendship and with a hospitality which their hosts of friends will never forget." Funeral services were held at the Lien Lutheran Church on the afternoon of Wednesday 7 December. The Lien choir sang "Sweetly Resting" and Karen Samuelson sang "Den store hvide flok". She is buried in the Immanuel Lutheran Cemetery near Barrett, Grant County, Minnesota beside her Hans.

Headstone for Hans and Anna (Elton) Bardahl
Photo by Ken/Elinor Bardahl


  • Minnesota Death Index, 1908-2002; Evangelical Lutheran Church of America Records 1875-1940; Minnesota Find a Grave Index 1800-2012; 1930 United States Federal Census
  • State of Minnesota Marriage Licence and Certificate for Hans Bardahl and Anna Elton
  • State of Minnesota Certificate of Death 4733 for Anna Bardahl
  • Kirkeboker for Vang, Oppland, Norway (microfilm 307321) and Norwegian digital archives