Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Grandma Katie's Quilt

Katie Cooke Fitzgerald

 We've heard the story of Katie's birth in Ireland, her immigrant family, and some tales of their life in Boston and Charlestown. This is a much later story. After I was born in 1952, my mother renegotiated a relationship between my father and his mother and I was frequently taken to see her in her apartment in Charlestown. This is where  I think this picture was taken.

In 1957,  in another picture taken at Thanksgiving or Christmas, we see Katie on a visit to our house in Burlington. This is when I think the quilts might have come into the family. This is not the story of a master quilter, far from it. I was not aware that Katie even sewed. I only know that in the late 1950's two tied quilts came to Lee and me; hers was in pink binding and mine in blue. They were on our beds in our childhood every winter and were much loved. They saw hard service. Lee's eventually fell apart or disappeared. Mine came to me when my mom made her last move. I set it aside up in a closet thinking I would do something with it "someday".

Someday came during a pandemic. I was cleaning out that closet for donations and found the quilt. It was in rough shape: stained, dirty, and fallinng apart in places. I decided it would make a good project.

It was a higgledy-piggledy arrangement of 2-inch charm squares set in a binding and backing of turquoise and tied, rather than quilted, with pink floss. Some places had orderly square corners and even seams, but sometimes things went off the cliff and small pieces were set in to make up the difference. The old fabrics were quite charming indeed.

There were whole sections of split or missing fabric, terrible stains, and other places where seam allowances dangled by a thread. And it smelled.
The first thing was to take it apart, wash the top and see what was salvageable. So I began gently cutting the knotted floss, sliding out the ties, ripping the seams along the border and easing the layers apart as kindly as I could. I put the top in a special quilt washing soap in the bathtub. Then I laid it gently over several lines of the clothesline so as not to stress the fabric. Immediately I began to see brighter color and things didn't seem quite so hopeless.

Now this is a project that quilt conservators would run from. It's not a historic pattern, made by a master quilter. It's not actually quilted and its condition was poor. They would most likely say, 
"Pick out the best squares, make a pillow for remembrance and move on". But I'm stubborn. This is one of a very few things I have that came from that side of the family. It came from Katie as her gift to me. She may not have even made it; maybe she commissioned it from a friend. Who knows? As I examined it, I saw lots of 40's and 50's fabrics, but I also saw some rougher weave fabrics that may have come from old sugar or flour sacks. I also began to see a method in the madness. She actually used the 2-inch squares to make blocks of 16. Some of these were in pretty good shape. It might still have life as a wall-hanging. The turquoise border and backing was obviously new fabric at the time and in the best shape. So I decided to separate out blocks of 16, add the turquoise as a lattice for strength, and create a wall-hanging.
I began to pick out blocks of 16 and make repairs. Where the seams were shaky, or there were holes or splits, I uused a light-weight fusible called Misty Fuse and pieces of muslin. on the back. I replaced missing squares from elsewhere in the quilt. It started out with over 1, 000 small squares.
I was able to save about 500;  twenty-five blocks of sixteen and enough left over to created a running border. I didn't fuss too much with making every block the same size or perfectly square.

After I had the blocks assembled I laid them all out and arranged and rearranged until the rows measured more closely the same length and the arrangement was pleasing. Then I began joining the blocks and rows with the turquoise lattice. I tried to make things as even as possible, but I didn't fuss. The center would be an homage to the original, warts and all.

I took a picture of the back to show the extent of the repairs. It's a lot, I know, but I wanted to preserve whatever I could. The border squares were in the worst shape, but I think the border in the finished work is charming.
 I added plain muslin on all four sides to make up the difference in the size of the quilt.
I thought a long time about what should go in the "sandwich" that makes up a quilt. I was cautioned that traditional batting would put stress on the old fabric when I tied the quilt. I decided that a length of flannel would be the best choice. I joined two lengths, added a muslin backing  and basted the whole thing together. Now it was time to tie the quilt. I used the same shade of pink as the original on the old work and a shade that matched the muslin on the new work. This also took a bit of time and patience. It was a good project for pandemic movie-streaming.

Last, I cut a muslin bias-binding and bound all the edges. I added a pocket to the back of the quilt which will contain as much as I know about it and instructions for its care.

My nephew is the only child to come from my generation. He may not want a quilt on his wall. He may not appreciate its charms. But I hope he will put it away along with its story. Someday he may have a daughter, a granddaughter, or a daughter-in-law who will love it as I do. Maybe someday, someone will be curious about Katie and the Irish side of the family. At least if it doesn't hang on a wall, it can live in a chest of family memories. Someone will enjoy Katie's story.
The quilt enjoys a place of pride in my livingroom

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

A Pioneer Remembered


Montgomery Street, San Francisco, 1850
This year, 1850, was about the time that Michael Stinson Cooke arrived in the United States from Ireland. He spent some brief time in New York and then traveled west. What strikes me about this image is what is missing. You see some concentrated building in the foreground and the hills we know well, bare, in the background. Now imagine far beyond those hills, in the area we now call "the avenues" at the far west end of present-day San Francisco.  That was where Michael and his family settled. Imagine how far that was by wagon from Montgomery Street and what passed for "civilization".  

left: Alene Murphy Solari, top: Eva Piratsky Murphy, bottom: Ann Cooke, right: Mary Anne Cooke

 These are the women of the Cooke family sometime just before 1905 when Mary Ann's mother died. Mary Ann died in 1932, and in October the Oakland Tribune published a remembrance of her remarkable life and memories. Possibly it was largely penned by her husband James. I'm going to transcribe it here because it lends great color to the story of her life.

Oakland Tribune, Sunday, Oct. 2 1932

Of the Old San Francisco

"Of the old San Francisco was Mrs. Mary Ann Piratsky, born here seventy-seven years ago. Her death at Watsonville, where her husband James G Piratsky has been a newspaper publisher for some years, has brought out reviews of an eventful and inspiring life. Daughter of San Francisco pioneers, Michael and Ann Cook, Mrs. Piratsky always claimed the distinction of being the first white child born in that metropolitan area now embraced between Larkin Street, the Golden Gate, Seal Rocks, and Twin Peaks. She often related how the shack in which she was born was built with lumber that, painstakingly, was transported a couple of pieces at a time on the back of a mule over the only trail out to where her father settled. The trail started at the corner of Bush Street and Grant Avenue (just blocks from where the photo was taken) (at that time know at Dupont Street, one of the principal streets of San Francisco) and wound its way over the sand dunes out to the Odd Fellow Cemetery,  which property was then known as "Cook's Milk Ranch". Cook took up considerable land thereabouts, and in partnership with a man named Williams owned all of Lone Mountain, which mountain was sold by Cook to Archbishop Alemany for $150, in later years because a movement was on foot to take over the mountain and on its top bury David Broderick (who had been killed in a duel...), Cook said he did not want the grave to overlook his holdings, and strenuously objected to the proposal. Fearing that the people of San Francisco would take the land away from him, he arranged the sale of the mountain to the bishop, and thus stopped the movement. Archbishop Alemany, in after years, sold off from the base of Lone Mountain over $50,000 worth of lots, and still had the mountain, which the church is now grading off to erect thereon an educational institution.

On the Peralta Rancho

The Cook family, when Mrs. Piratsky was about four years old, moved across the bay and took a lease on a large tract of the Peralta Rancho, about where Berkeley is now located. Cook raise grain on this tract and did so well that he was enabled to return to San Francisco in a year or so, and erect a two-story residence on P. Lobos Avenue (then known as Geary Street) which he occupied until his death, some fifty years afterwards. Thus it will be seen that Mrs. Piratsky lived in a pioneer age. One of her prized possessions was a book "Annals of San Francisco", which was awarded to her as a prize at the Denman Girls' High School, then located at Bush and Mason streets. Especially interesting was the account of the escape of the Irish patriot, Terence Bellew Mc Manus, from Sydney, Australia, where he had been transported by the British Government. McManus was a prominent Irishman, and the British Government was extremely glad when he made his escape in a vessel sent to Australia by the Irish revolutionists. In fact, England didn't care if he never came back. Mc Manus made his escape to San Francisco and was given refuge by Cook, who was also one of the revolutionists. McManus took up and settled upon, as a ranch, the greater portion of what now comprises Golden Gate Park. He died from the hardship incurred in Australia and was taken back in great state to Ireland where he was given an immense funeral. His sister, Isabel McManus, was swindled out of the property by squatters instigated by some of McManus' professed friends. The Cooks befriended Miss McManus until her death. Mrs. Piratsky was at her best describing the McManus affair. Her first school was the Sisters' School, connected with an orphanage attached to St. Patrick's Church, which church was then located on the site now occupied by the Palace Hotel. Across the street, where the Crocker bank now stands was an immense sand-hill. The corner was once offered to Cook for a couple of hundred dollars. The offer was turned down. Also turned down was an offer made Cook that if he would clear off the sand-hill on the corner of Bush and Montgomery (on the same street as the photo) streets, he would be given one of the corner lots. The site was afterwards occupied by the Occidental Hotel.

I love the sleight-of-hand pulled by Michael on the city of San Francisco. They were looking, at the time, for a place to have large cemeteries. Michael foresaw seizure by eminent domain and sold to the bishop for a Catholic cemetery. Later all the cemeteries moved down to Colma. University of San Francisco, a Jesuit college, was built on the spot and remains there to this day.

As to his revolutionary leanings, it would certainly explain his very early exit from Ireland in 1850. He was eldest and would have inherited the lease on the land in Clooningan. That passed to his brother. I don't doubt that he had revolutionary sympathies, but it also wouldn't surprise me to find out that the McManus clan were cousins of some sort. I haven't found any McManus names yet in my tree, but the records may not be there. This was very early.

Mary Ann Cook Piratsky had a remarkable pioneer life in San Francisco. It's always so rewarding to find first-hand accounts in your family history.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

A Trip to the Fair


The California Midwinter Exhibition of 1894
The California Midwinter Exhibition of 1894 was held in Golden Gate Park, just steps from Mary Ann Cooke Piratsky's parents' home. It was held from January to July 1894  following on the heels of the Columbian Exhibition in Chicago. The driving force behind this was Michael DeYoung, then publisher of the San Francisco Chronicle. Many of the exhibits from Chicago were brought west by DeYoung in addition to a number of new exhibits. There had been an economic downturn at the time, and DeYoung was looking to boost the local economy. The man who designed the layout of the fairgrounds was chief engineer Michael O'Shaughnessy. San Franciscans will recognize that name from the street and Muni route into the park named for him.

The Fairgrounds from Strawberry Hill
The family connection here has to do with Mary Ann Cooke Piratsky. She was married to James, and seems to have been living in Hollister at the time. She was not allowed to write under her own byline, but wrote for men at the Hollister Freelance. The press pass labels her a photographer. Perhaps, she did a bit of that as well. James was beginning a long career in journalism. More about that later.
James and Mary Ann Piratsky

Mary Ann's press pass
Some of the landmarks we know in Golden Gate Park date from that period. The building devoted to Fine Arts later became the DeYoung Museum.
The Fine Arts Building
And the Japanese Garden later became The Japanese Tea Garden visited by so many people and one of my favorite places.
Marsh's Japanese Village
But this was not without controversy. The developer of this exhibit wanted rickshaws drawn by real Japanese men. The Japanese community protested and the idea was changed...German men in makeup and costume pulled the rickshaws. Despite this misstep, the garden itself was salvaged by Park superintendent John McLaren and became the lovely place we know today.

 In addition to the coverage from Hollister by the Piratskys, it got a front-page in January in the Los Angeles Herald and in June from the San Francisco Call.
LAHerald - January 1894
San Francisco Call- June 1894
Everyone seems to have made their money. Perhaps this coupon explains the illustration at the top of the post.

Ticket sales were brisk, according to the papers and school children especially enjoyed the attractions.
The Midwinter Fair, as it was called, drew nearly two and a half million people during its run. By any measure, a success. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

The Battle of Fredericksburg- Returning to the Story of W. B. Rogers

One of the five pontoon bridges being laid across the Rappahannock
For the Battle of Fredericksburg, we have to rely for and account of movements on the historic record. No doubt, Winslow B. didn't want to worry his wife and family. The stories in the paper at the time were lurid enough.

The History of the 36th Regiment tells us this:
After shelling failed to dislodge the Rebel forces from the city, five pontoon bridges were laid and the order was given to cross and advance on the city. W.B.'s unit was part of the Ninth Corps. under  General Burns.
    "That morning, several divisions of the Ninth Corps. were early in line; and as they reached the Fredericksburg side of the river,  they were placed in position to the left of Sumner's Grand Division, and just below the city. In crossing, a few men were killed by the enemy's shells that fell short of our batteries at which they were aimed. Two men of the Thirty-Sixth were in this way slightly wounded.
    That night we moved up into the city, and stacking guns spent the night on the sidewalk and in the deserted homes in rear of the guns. Early on the morning of December 13th, preparations were made for the approaching battle. Burns' division of the Ninth Corps., to which our brigade belonged, was assigned to a position below the city. There, across Hazel's Run, behind a rise of ground, we remained under arms in reserve, listening to the roar of artillery and musketry as the battle raged along the line from left to right expecting every minute to be called to participate in the terrible conflict; but no orders came until afternoon when we moved further down the river, crossed Deep Run and were placed in front of the Barnard House covering the lower pontoon bridge. At dark, the 36th moved forward and supported a battery in front of the Sligo House."
    There was apparently a plan to engage the Ninth Corps. in battle the following day, but it was abandoned. The army advanced into the city and found it deserted. To the great disappointment of the men, they fell back to their previous encampment.
Map of the Battle showing the position of the 36th Massachusetts

We know that the battle raged for four days and despite some advances was not considered a success. The 36th seems to have been held in reserve for a second charge that never came, a disappointment for the men, but fortunate for W.B. There were many Union losses.
The attack at Fredericksburg

Here is W.B.'s account:
Fredericksburg, Virginia 
December 15, 1862

Dear Wife,
       It is Sunday noon and I am sitting on the wharf of the Rappahannock. The bank of the river is crowded with troops and stacks of arms. We are having a terrible battle. It commenced on Wednesday at 6 o'clock in the morning and this is the fourth day. The firing has been less for two hours but I don't know but it will be resumed again worse than ever. We are in the possession of the City. We encamped in the city night before last and stayed on the floor of a little shanty in the yard of a nice rebel mansion. The buildings are completely riddled with shells and some are burned. The city is worse than burned. Oh the horrors of war no one can imagine unless they see it. I will give you an account of my experience of the battle. We were ordered to be ready to march at 8 o'clock Wednesday morning without knapsack. We formed our brigade just before our camp and stood until most sundown. We marched down towards the city about 3/4 of a mile and then turned about and marched back to our old camp and pitched our tents and stayed until morning. We were then ordered to fall in about daylight and started for the City. We crossed the pontoon bridges onto the wharf about where we are today and stayed there until dark and then we marched up on to the street and stayed until morning. We then started and marched about half a mile out and stood until most night. We were then ordered to fall in. We double quicked it a little farther through the mud and were drawn up in line of battle and stood until dark and then laid down on the ground until half past two. We then started and marched through the mud and water I suppose several miles and formed in line and were ordered to lay close on the ground expecting every moment a shell would come over. We laid until it begun to be light. We were then ordered to march back to where we lay the day before which proved to be about a hundred rods. We stayed long enough to make a little coffee. We were then ordered to fall in and marched double-quick to where we are now. I have not spoke of the firing. We have not fired a gun in the 36th Regiment yet but there has been a continual roar of canon and popping of musket shot but the shells have been flying over our heads the whole time and some burst near us. One piece came within a rod of me and some were wounded in sight of me. Most sundown. We are laying here yet and I must finish my letter as the chaplain is ready to take the letters.
From your husband,
W. B. Rogers
    Seven years ago this month, I began writing this blog. I had done just enough genealogy to discover a few things about Winslow Brainard and his family. There are still some mysteries to be uncovered. I hope this inspires my readers to delve into their own family stories. 
Happy Blogiversary to me!

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

A Life's Mission

Sister Columba (Belinda Cooke) probably on an celebration of her vows
Meet Belinda Cooke. Belinda would be my first cousin, twice removed. She was my great-grandfather Michael's  niece. Here's a small tree to help keep it straight.
Add caption
Belinda had five brothers and lived on the family farm in Clooningan. She was born in 1898, so this would have been long before much knowledge of modern illnesses, much less treatment. At some point in her childhood, she got polio. The family story is that she prayed that if she were cured, she would devote her life to missions.

In the early twenties she made good on this promise and went to the Convent of the Good Shepherd in Limerick. From there she went on to France, probably the mother house in Angers for her training as a teacher. At some point she took her vows and became Sister Columba. She took a trip home before going on her assignment and announced to the family she would not be back. Her assignment took her to a convent and school in Mysore, India. 
Sister Columba on the right with Anne Leonard
You can get some idea by checking out the background in the picture. You can see the students and a bit of the school and convent. My cousin, Anne Leonard, worked for an airline and was able to visit her.

And this also gives you some of the "flavor" of her world.

She also kept up a lively correspondence with her nieces and nephews in Ireland, Canada, and the United States. The letter I'm quoting from is from her to her grand-nephew Jimmy. My cousin Denise kindly shared.

"You asked what subjects I teach. Well, dear I teach every subject except 2nd language and that is always the language of the country so I cannot teach it. Our classes here are very big I have over fifty. They are mostly all bright intelligent children. Last year I taught the boys, this year I have girls. Of course they are mostly all pagans; that is the sad part of it."
I suppose this attitude, though a little uncomfortable for us, is not unexpected for a nun at the time. And she devoted her life to teaching them, so I can't fault her for that. I used to think classes of thirty were too big, I can't imagine fifty! She wrote another letter to Denise herself, but it is mostly personal and about family.

I usually do a lot more research on the people I blog about, but with a nun that's rather hard. Plus her order has fallen under a bit of a cloud, so information is hard to come by.  This isn't the only person in the family to take vow, but she is in more recent memory so there are picture and relics to tell the story. And she kept her promise in a way I find admirable.

Sunday, April 5, 2020


From the Plague Doctor series-

What could be more appropriate today than a plague doctor in his mask? It is certainly nothing new in the history of mankind. You might remember my post about how one small town where my Rogers ancestors lived dealt with an outbreak of smallpox. And how some surrounding towns took a more bloodless approach. Check that out here.

The plague of the 19th Century was tuberculosis. Before it was understood that a particular bacteria caused the disease, crowding, poor sanitation and poor hygiene killed large numbers of people in this country who contracted TB. No surprise, when people were removed to cleaner sanitariums they often recovered. I was startled to discover how many of my relatives died of tuberculosis as I worked on my tree. Finding them all to list them would have taken the better part of my month at home. So I chose the most striking examples. I would find some really well-kept registers that listed "consumption" or "phthisis pulmonalis" as the cause of death. That's TB. There were probably many others, but before good records were standardized, an early female death would easily have been either childbirth or TB.
Jennie R Smith- Nov 1880
This is one of the saddest records I found. Jennie was my great-great-grandfather's youngest sister. She died at just nineteen. The worst part was that out of twelve children in this family, only 3 lived to adulthood. Jennie almost made it. On the same page recording her death in Waltham I found many other TB deaths.

Another story was that of the family of Moses Rogers of Holden. He was my third great grandfather's brother. In his family he lost 4 children to tuberculosis, one to typhoid, one to typhus and one to cancer. Seven out of his eight children. Some in adulthood, to be sure, but still... 

I think  about the things that killed people in the 19th century: disease and childbirth. Old age was a luxury. People were accustomed to death in a way we just aren't. And accustomed to outbreaks of diseases we have long left behind. On the register page with Jennie's death I found tubercular meningitis, tuberculosis and six cases of diphtheria.  The outbreak at one point was so severe that people blamed vampires and began doing strange rituals to stop it. You can read about that here. Bleach and toilet paper hoarding may be more logical, but no less hysterical.
Josephine Payne Fitzgerald 1910
This last record is the death of my great-uncle Robert Fitzgerald's wife Josie in 1910. Even then, tuberculosis was taking lives. Her infant son died the same month of  "lumbar pneumonia", but who knows whether she passed it along to him?  Robert was left to raise my cousin Katherine until 1917 when a freak accident killed him and she went to live with my grandparents.

I found stories like this all through the family tree as I have worked along. Now to be sure, tuberculosis was a slow death. People knew the outcome and had some time to accustom themselves to the eventuality; the average TB patient lived three to five years. There were no airplanes. People traveled less. The spread would have been slower. And living in an age where we are inoculated against the biggest killers of previous ages, we have no reference for what we are seeing today.

Here's a thought. Picture your family tree as a very large inverted triangle with you, the "distillation" at the very bottom. That image reminds me again of something that struck me early on in genealogy: I am the result of survival of every possible type of calamity. My ancestors survived pandemics, deaths in accidents, death in childbirth, war, famine  just to name a few. My very existence is a kind of miracle. Until I did genealogy, I never really grasped or appreciated that. 
Today, I do even more.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Throwback Thursday

This is Ann Cooke, the widow of Michael Stinson Cooke in front of her home at the corner of Geary and Cooke St.. (San Francisco) I don't know the year, but Michael died in 1897 and she died in 1905 so my guess is somewhere in that time period.
This is that same corner today. Based on a previous much older photo, the house actually faced what is now Geary and sat where the tire store is located at about the spot you see the small tree.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

A Sticky Disaster in the North End

Clarke at Hanover St. in Boston's North End about 1893-courtesy of the photo archives Boston Public Library
This is Boston's famous North End neighborhood, just before the turn of the century. My Cooke relatives weren't living here at this time; they were living in Dorchester near Michael's workplace in the stoneyard. It gives you some idea, however, of what the neighborhood looked like. There were the famous buildings, the home of Paul Revere and the Old North Church, and then there were squalid tenements. The neighborhood was teeming with Irish immigrants. Indeed, the Cookes moved to 164 Endicott Street and were shown there on the 1900 census.

They didn't live there long. Michael moved the family across the Charles River to Charlestown and died in 1913. By the time our story takes place in 1919 the neighborhood was largely Italian immigrants. Michael's widow was in Everett with her daughter and my grandmother, grandfather and their family were living in Charlestown. But I tell this story as an illustration of what happened in immigrant neighborhoods in many cities at this time where there were industries side-by-side with poor housing and little regulation to protect the residents.

The story actually began before the first World War when the U.S. Industrial Alcohol Company began work on a very large tank on the waterfront on Commercial Street in the North End. The company planned to house large amounts of imported molasses awaiting shipment to its distillery to be turned into explosives. Right from the beginning, the enormous tank was cursed. It was put up quickly, with substandard sheet metal, it was never properly tested and when problems became evident, the company covered them up. Molasses ran down the sides of the tank inviting the poor neighborhood children to collect it in buckets. The company painted the tank rust brown to disguise the leaks. Workers heard shrieks and moans coming from inside the tank. People standing near the tank reported feeling the sides of the tank pulsing with the fermentation and gases inside. It was a disaster waiting to happen. 

On January 15, 1919, disaster happened. The tank failed in a spectacular way and all at once. Rivets shot like artillery fire, metal panels buckled and an explosion of 2.3 million gallons of molasses created a 15 foot tidal wave on Commercial Street. It slammed into buildings, cellars, people and animals burying everything in its path. A section of the sheet metal sliced through the supports of the elevated train track, collapsing it. Only quick thinking saved two operating trains from coming down with it.
The arrows point to the tank and the former Cooke home. the dots outline the extent of the molasses flood
Buildings were inundated or destroyed completely. Horses could not escape the sticky mess and had to be shot. Twenty-one people died either immediately or within the week. Many more were injured. A firehouse immediately next to the tank was lifted from its foundation and moved trapping several firefighters inside. Some people were swept into the frigid Charles River and not found for weeks. One child, who had been collecting firewood from the train track, was crushed by a train car and drowned in molasses.
These pictures are from the archives of the Boston Public Library. They tell the story best.
An overview of the area immediately after the disaster

Fireman attempting to rescue people- the Cloughty house, in the background was directly across the street from the tank. Maria Cloughty was crushed instantly
the collapsed train track with a combination of molasses and sea water underneath
My father would have been a baby at the time, but his twelve-year-old cousin Catherine, who was living with them on Mount Vernon Street would certainly have been aware.  I can't even imagine what that would have been like.

It took weeks of cleanup with salt water and fire hoses. That part of the North End was never the same. Today, the land is a park and ball field.  They say that even today, on a warm summer day, you can smell molasses on Commercial Street. A lawsuit ensued, of course, and the company tried to pin the incident on dynamite planted by anarchists. They were not successful and damages were awarded. Cold comfort to those who lost their means of support or lived in pain the rest of their lives.

The Great Molasses Flood has become a piece of Boston history, albeit a rather bizarre one. It was well documented in Dark Tide by Stephen Puleo. Laws were eventually strengthened to protect the public, but it was the court case that had the most lasting effect as Puleo points out in this video.

What brought this topic to mind was an explosion at an industrial plant in the middle of a residential neighborhood- right here in Houston. Some things just don't change.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

The Story of Isaac D Fuller

Isaac D Fuller
Back when I was updating all the military record for my Ancestry tree, this photo popped up as a hint. "Ah, a terrible war injury", I thought. Isaac had enrolled in the Company A of the 30th Maine and served as a private. He enlisted in 1863 and mustered out in Savannah, Georgia in 1865. So, perhaps he was part of Sherman's march-to-the-sea.  The tag on the photo gave the name of the Ancestry member who originally uploaded the photo. So I messaged her and inquired about the photo.

Now Isaac D. Fuller is not a close relative. His mother was a Farrar. One of the Farrars married a Lowell whose child  in turn married a Smith. I descend from that marriage. But I love a good story and this photo just got to me. I was delighted when the person who uploaded it responded. Yes, she is his third great-granddaughter through one of his daughters. She knew the story. There has been an accident.
She told me what she knew.

In the meantime, other hints kept popping up for Isaac, for his four children and for his three wives. Isaac lived quite a life. Finally, recently, I decided to do a little looking again. From what this lady told me, the accident was quite the event. Surely it would have been covered in the local paper. Sure enough, I found this.
It was in the Oxford Democrat for the week following the accident.  To save your eyes I'll put the text below.
The Buckfield Celebration
A Sad Accident Throws a Gloom Over an Otherwise Happy Day
"At Buckfield, as at most places, the spirit of Independence commenced to assert itself early. In fact, very little sleep was in store for the inhabitants of the place on Friday night, but a most sad and painful accident occurred which cast a gloom and dampness over the ardor of everybody. While engaged in firing the sunrise salute, Isaac D Fuller, who was in charge of the artillery for the day, was the victim of an accident which cost him both his arms, if indeed he escapes with his life. Mr. Fuller had been loading and firing an anvil. He was loading for another shot, when the weapon discharged with a tremendous report knocking him senseless. It was found upon examination that Mr. Fullers arms were so badly shattered that it was necessary to amputate them, and that he had probably lost the use of one eye. Drs. Caldwell, Bridgham and Decoster were immediately called and performed the amputation. It was thought during the day that Mr. Fuller could not live, but he rested comfortably Saturday night and on Sunday walked a short distance, from one room to another. It is hoped that his eyes may be saved. Truman Damon also lost or came near to losing an eye by the same explosion. The theory of the accident is, that Mr. Fuller was loading and firing too fast,  not giving the anvil time to cool, and the untimely explosion caused by putting the powder into the hot weapon."
So Isaac survived two years on the battlefield only to come home and blow his arms off in a Fourth of July celebration. And then he survived even that! This is one tough character. Other articles popped up in the Democrat which painted an even more colorful portrait of Isaac.
Addendum:  I belong to a Civil War forum to mine information from the people there in reference to another relative. I asked them about what an "anvil" might be other than blacksmithing equipment.
The response was unbelievable.
"Anvil shoots have been a whacky form of entertainment going back centuries. The hollow space cast into the base of an anvil is filled with black powder. A second anvil is place atop the other. Alternatively, the face of one anvil has an even layer of black powder laid on it. A second anvil, upside down, is placed atop the powder. From a (hopefully) safe distance the powder is ignited & ka-boom! An anvil weighting 100 pounds sails 100 or more feet into the air. This form of entertainment is still common today. Yes, it is wildly, absurdly, absolutely, insanely dangerous. The blacksmith forge I belong to raised money for a comrade who suffered traumatic amputation of some body parts in a premature detonation. I know this sounds crazy (my wife is rolling her eyes behind me as I type this). There really is something wildly entertaining about the improbable sight of an explosion & anvil shooting up out of a cloud of white black powder smoke. ('For some people, maybe.' says my sweetie.) Added to the thrill, of course, is that the ballistic qualities of an anvil make its eventual resting place a matter of conjecture only."
Should you care to browse old newspapers in search of your own relatives, Chronicling America has a wonderful resource here. I even had some success finding out more about Isaac using their advanced search function. This is one site I'll be visiting often.
Sometimes my curiosity just gets the better of me, but sometimes the results are worth it.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Black Sheep in My Tree

This is a brief post about a not-so-close relative who qualifies as a black sheep. (his wife would be my first cousin 8 times removed) Truly things don't change much over the years as you shall see.

Hannah Rogers (my cousin) was the granddaughter of Joseph Rogers who arrived on the Mayflower. Her mother was Elizabeth Snow.  She married Amaziah Harding in 1690.  The story is that he was a miller in Eastham. We know that he inherited Eastham land from his own grandfather, but details about Amaziah are hazy. Together Hannah and Amaziah had nine children. It was not, however, a happy marriage.

The date of the drama would seem to indicate that the pair were in their sixties or later. Certainly their children would have been grown.  This quote is from a book called Legal Executions in New England; a Comprehensive Reference:
"Amaziah Harding, white, age unknown, Murder. The crime was committed on July 18, 1733, at Eastham, Massachusetts, Amaziah Harding and his wife Hannah Rogers Harding (white, age unknown), had been locked in an abusive marriage for more than 20 years. The situation finally reached a climax on the above date when Mr. Harding beat his spouse to death. He then laid her body down upon their bed and carefully tucked it in with blankets because he wanted to make it look like she had died of natural causes. When Harding was satisfied that the scene looked convincing, he summoned a neighbor woman and told her that his wife has died. He also asked the woman to prepare the body for burial according to the local custom. When the woman removed the bedclothes preparatory to washing the body she saw numerous cuts and bruises on the decedent. This led the mortician woman to suspect foul play; she knew that Harding has been an abusive husband and she flatly refused to dress the body for burial until the coroner had been summoned. Harding scoffed at this and declared himself "well satisfied" that his wife was dead. When asked why he felt that way, he said that his wife "had been a plague to him". 

I have seen versions where he threw her down the mill stairs, etc. etc. but since the trial transcripts burned in a fire, this seems to be the most dependable account. The case was infamous even at the time. This appeared in the Boston Weekly Newsletter:
"We hear from Eastham on Cape Cod, That the beginning of last Week, amost barbarous Murder was committed there, on the body of one Mrs. Harding,suppos'd to be done by her own Husband Amaziah Harding; he having for agreat while before, as 'tis said, carried it very ill towards her, to theimparing of her Reason; and now being found in the Room alone with her,where she lay dead near him, with her Neck twisted and broke, and about herMouth and Throat much beat and bruis'd. The hard-hearted Man being thus surpriz'd, and charg'd with the Fact, by those who first discover'd it,endeavoured to put an end to his own Life, by stabing a Knife into hisBowels, which stroke not proving mortal immediately, he went to repeat it,aiming at his Breast, but was prevented by those about him, and on Fridaylast he was sent to Barnstable Goal."

All that strangling and stabbing! Grisly stuff.
And the trial even featured the testimony of the neighbor herself, Mary Freeman  and her daughter-in-law Hannah:
"Mary Freeman of Lawful age to give Evidence testifies [Information?] came hastily on or about the eighteen day of July 1733 and Informed me that my neighbor Maziah Hardings wife was Dead it being something surprising to me to hear so for I was informed by his son Corneilis less than one hour before that shee was well & in health whereupon I went immediately with my Daughter In Law Hannah Freeman to sd Maziah Hardings house & when I came there I met with sd Maziah Harding at the Door of his house I then asked him if his wife was Dead. He answered yes & he was glad of it whereupon I went in to sd Hardings house & there I saw his wives Dead body lay on a bed wrapped up in bed clothes & when I looked on her I saw a [proof?] on her cheek & on her throat & lip that the blood was jelled which seemed to me to be occasioned by some bruise or hurt. Then I asked sd Harding how his wife came so suddenly to her end whether he took notice shee had not been well. He answered shee was as well as shee used to be for ought hee knew & he sd shee had drunk her fill of Rum and sat on the Door sill & he laid on the bed & fell asleep & when he awoke he called for her but shee gave him no answer. Then he rose and went into the other Room and found her Dead on the bed. I took notice that sd Harding was in a strange frame and seemed to be disguised with Drink and often Repeated these words [to wit?]. Harding is a man shirt or no shirt every inch of him & he often Declared he was glad his wife was Dead. I reproved him and tould him I was sorry to hear him say so & asked him why he was glad of it. & sd Harding Replyed & sd because shee had been a Plague to him for above these twenty years past & he hoped now he should git somebody to keep his house clean & look after his things and many such like expressions. & sd Harding further sd his wife was now gone to paradise among the Royal breed & would be clothed in Robes of glory and many such like expressions. & then sd Harding was very urgent with me to help clean linen to bury his wife in & he would pay me for it & was very desirous that I would lay out his wife & sd he would help me to do it urging shee might be buried with all speed fore he sd shee was covered with lice, Rags & dirt. I told him I would not meddle with her nor advise any others till a Jurie had past upon her. Whereupon the sd Harding Replied & sd a Jurie, then sd he there will arise a Cursed Damnd Mobb & seemed to bee then something surprised & uneasy & [disembled?] and sd there was no occasion of a Jurie for others he named had died suddenly & no Jurie on them. Then I told him there was not the like occasion of a Jurie for others he named had died when several were present. Then he seemed to be more Restless in his mind & sd this id the fruite of mens wives taking their Neighbours parts against their husbands which has brought it to this & uttered many sensurious Reflections on his neighbors. "

It didn't take the jury long to render a verdict. It remains unclear whether the man was simply a chronic wife-beater or had snapped completely at age 63. I suppose it doesn't matter much.
"The Jurors of our Lord the King upon their oath present That Maziah Harding
of Eastham in the County of Barnstable aforesd Yeoman not having the fear of
God before his Eyes but being instigated by the Devil with force and arms and
of his malice forethought on the Eighteenth Day of July last at Eastham
aforesd and assault on the Body of Hannah his then wife and in the Kings peace
then being did make and then and there With force as aforesd then and there
Feloniously twisted the neck of the said Hannah and Dislocated the same, of
which the said Hannah then Instantly dyed so that the said Maziah Harding of
his malice prepense as aforesd Feloniously murdered the said Hannah his wife
Contrary to the Peace of our sd Lord the King his Crown and Dignity, and the
Law in that case made and provided Upon which Indictment the said Maziah
Harding being arraigned at the Barr pleaded not Guilty, and for trial put
himself upon God & Countrey, a Jury being sworn to try the issue between our
Sovereign Lord the King and the Prisioners Defense went out to Consider
thereof and returned their Verdict therein upon oath that is to say that the
said Maziah Harding is Guilty. Itfs therefore Considered and Ordered by the
court That the said Maziah Harding shall suffer the pains of death."

The coroner's findings and the testimony of the two Freeman women did the trick. Here's the end of the article in the Trials  article.
Amaziah Harding was then charged with capital murder. A grand jury first indicted him and then a petit jury convicted him. A circuit judge sentences him to death. Amaziah Harding went to his doom reviled as an uxoricide. he swung from the gallows at Barnstable on June 5 1734."

An unrepentant Harding denied his guilt to the very end.

Grandma Katie's Quilt

Katie Cooke Fitzgerald   We've heard the story of Katie's birth in Ireland, her immigrant family, and some tales of their life in Bo...