Tuesday, March 31, 2015

52 Ancestors: Different

"Week 13 (March 26 – April 1) – Different. What ancestor seems to be your polar opposite? What ancestor did something that seems completely different than what they “should” have done or what you would have done?" (No Story Too Small)

This week's challenge is easier than last week's. In the past, I've reflected on the changes the Boyd family (or at least my Grandpa's branch) experienced in the twentieth century. Just today, I was scanning some of my Grandpa's letters to Grandma during World War II and came across one passage where he was looking forward to their married life and what he wanted for his future family. He wrote, "so if ever we do have kids then we get the very best any one could give them a colledge education a good home when there little and the things I wanted and never had." (spelling, formatting, etc. preserved)

Fast forward to this year. Grandpa and Grandma have two sons and five living grandchildren. Each have at least attended college. One son and four grandchildren have earned Bachelors and the other grandchild is working his way to his degree. Three granddaughters, including myself, have Masters. We grew up in nice little houses - nothing extravagant but all good, stable places for children. There are other differences in our upbringing too - in religion and in the, ahem, civil behavior of the adults in our lives.

And this brings me to the ancestors who made different choices than I would have: my great-grandfather William Henry Richardson alias Boyd and his father Squire Freeman Richardson. Let me tell you the main way in which we are different: They made money. Nope, they didn't have fabulous jobs with hefty salaries. They literally made money. Squire actually earned the moniker in some newspapers of "the Cassadaga counterfeiter." 

Now, I've made lots of things - drawings, paintings, crocheted scarves, so on. But I've yet to make anything that could get me arrested and I don't intend to start. However, I did laugh myself silly when I did a Google search for "Squire Richardson Cassadaga" and pulled up this newspaper article from the New York Times archive:

From the New York Times, 25 Nov 1888

I knew that great-grandpa had been arrested for counterfeiting, so I've learned from an early age to not be ruffled by ancestors misbehaving. But it was still quite a surprise finding my ancestor showing up in a major newspaper for his misdeeds.

When this family tradition started, I don't know. Before Squire, the family seems to have been respectable farmers. Before 1888, Squire was a farmer or farm laborer and I have seen no evidence that he had started making illegal coins before then. By his admission, he had only been in business for seven or eight months before he was caught in 1888. 

A Morgan dollar, one kind of coin in circulation in 1888
Photo by Brandon Grossardt

What I do know about his activities come from newspapers.

I know something of the nature of the coins he made. The false silver coins were “dollars and half dollars of a kind that was almost impossible to detect and of which large quantities have been circulated in Erie, Warren, Oil City and Jamestown. Some of the stuff also reached Buffalo.” They were made mostly of plate tin with some copper and antimony and were molded in plaster of paris dies. Some contained a little silver but most had been plated with it

They had been made by him in the woods near his home in Cassadaga with a hollow tree as his workshop. Squire had a “decent” reputation and had been “traveling a great deal, on and off.”

During one such trip, to attend the Republican convention in Chicago, as he later admitted, he had passed bad money. He had several accomplices, including one Henry “Hank” Mellon, who helped him pass off the money, including during the night of a Democratic parade in Fredonia. His son, William Henry, a brakeman on the D.A.V. & P. railroad, passed a quantity of the money, which was traced back to him. Apparently, he disappeared before he could be pursued. It was later rumored that Squire was also engaged in making moonshine and that detectives were investigating his illegal still when they found the clues that led to a counterfeiting investigation by the Secret Service.

Detective Patrick Lyons, who had been “hanging about saloons” in order to get close to the gang members, managed to “ingratiate himself into Mellon’s favor.” While on board a train between Warren and Cassadaga, Lyons persuaded Mellon to give him an order for Squire to give him $100. Mellon subsequently became suspicious and attempted to throw some counterfeit coins in his pockets from the moving train. A bystander tried to stop him, thinking he had gone mad, and Lyons arrested Mellon. The latter attempted an escape but was recaptured.

The Cassadaga train station, circa 1900

Meanwhile, Lyons gave the order to Edward Bennett, who was working undercover with Lyons. On 20 November 1888, Bennett presented the order to Squire, who showed him his tools and metal and told him that he did not have that quantity but would make it. He began to work on the coins while Bennett witnessed, when Lyons arrived to conduct a raid on Richardson, in which dies were found in his house. Squire and Bennett were arrested. Lyons took them to Buffalo that night and Squire discovered that Bennett was undercover, apparently arrested only nominally in an attempt to keep certain details secret from other members of the counterfeiting gang. A reported seven gang members, including Squire and Mellon, were arrested that day.

Squire spent that evening in the Erie County jail. On 21 November, he “was taken before Assistant United States District Attorney Hoyt and vigorously pumped” and made a full confession that night. He later spoke well of his treatment by officers but in spite of reports that he would “squeal” on his accomplices, it was later reported that he did not implicate any of them. Squire was arraigned and allowed to see his wife Carrie (Caroline E. Devol) and “his two adult daughters” (even though other records indicate that he only had one daughter, Julia, and a son, William Henry) the next morning before being taken to Auburn, Cayuga, New York, that night, where he was to be taken before a grand jury. 

Squire's wife
Caroline E. (Devol) Richardson

Squire appeared in court as “an honest farmer about sixty years of age. He was dressed in an old suit of cheap working clothes and wore a blue calico shirt and rubber boots.” He later admitted to a reporter that he had worn it “for effect” because he had been “afraid to spruce up because the judge might have thought he was younger, and given him a harder sentence.” He pled guilty and said “that I would ask the court to be lenient as possible and promise that when I get out I won’t engage in the business again, and will do all I can to suppress it.” Squire was sentenced to four years in the Erie County Penitentiary and a fine of $50 on 24 November 1888. Squire responded, “That’s tough.” 

Afterwards, he spoke to a reporter and willingly and perhaps proudly shared his method for producing the coins and what he would do differently. He said told the reporter that he felt sorry for his wife, rather than for himself. While the reporter had seen a report that Squire was wealthy, he denied that Carrie had no property to fall back on but did have good friends. On 13 Dec 1888, the Olean Democrat reported that Lyons received a written order from Squire to Carrie to show Lyons some woodchuck holes in the orchard on the farm of Elijah Wood. There, Lyons found plaster of paris dies and other counterfeiting tools.

A counterfeit coin from 1888 -
Who knows who made this one
but it could be Squire's handiwork...hmm...

Unfortunately, I don't have any photos of Squire. Of all my great-great-grandparents, I'm missing photos only for him and of Maurice Hickey on my mother's side of the family. Maybe one day I'll track down his prison records. One could only hope that there's a mug shot in those records. That would make for one interesting family photo wall - faithful LDS pioneers, hardy immigrants, soldiers in uniform...and one prisoner in stripes. One can hope.

Squire passed his "trade" to his son. William Henry married and had a son Charlie in New York, then for reasons not entirely clear, he ran away, changed his name (not legally) from Richardson to Boyd, and started another family in Arkansas. The Boyds moved to Texas, Arizona, and finally California. In the 1930s, William Henry and much of the family had moved in his daughter Katie's house in San Francisco. It was there that William Henry and daughter Mary’s husband made their own counterfeit silver coins. 

William Henry Richardson Boyd

My grandfather Frank came home from school one day and saw what was happening and learned a little bit about how the coins were made. William Henry's wife and Frank's mother Bertha became angry when she discovered that Frank was being exposed to the illegal activity. Frank stated in an interview, “She says, I’m not gonna let Frank see that no more, and she says, We have no business living there. She says, We’d rather starve,” Frank reported. She took Frank and moved out. She got a job working for one Mrs. Rothenberg, who gave them a place in which to live on Seventh Street. Bertha took in laundry for the Rothenbergs and for others in the neighborhood. 

A walking liberty half dollar, which was in circulation in 1933
Photo by Heritage Auctions

At one point, William Henry decided to stop making the coins and he broke the molds. However, he kept a bag of the coins hidden in their wood stove. When Mary’s husband got caught burglarizing a house in about 1933, he reported what William Henry had done. William Henry, then about seventy-two years of age, was arrested and put in a minimum-security prison near the Puget Sound for a year. After leaving prison, the family was reunited and William and Bertha again lived under one roof.

San Francisco, 1933
Photo from Jeff , foundsf.org

McNeil Island Penitentiary, 1937
This was William Henry's home back in 1933

Grandpa ended up working with metals too but he did so legally. He was an ironworker and his specialty was handrails, not money. While his letters indicate that he had a rough patch in his younger years, his life took a decidedly different turn than his father and grandfather's. His mother had wanted him to become a preacher and while he didn't become one, he did have an interest in religion. He settled down and became a working class family man and eventually, his interest led him to speak to LDS missionaries. Better times, a desire to give his family what he didn't have, and an LDS belief in learning and education led to college for his descendants. A stable home and the values we learned in our homes and church led to a transformation, the transformation Grandpa wanted. 

Grandpa building a house with his eldest son

Sometime we carry on traditions; sometimes we turn from them and change. Sometimes traditions are good; sometimes they are unhealthy. In my case, there are many good, healthy traditions that have been passed down from some of my ancestors. But there are those that seem foreign to me and that's okay. It means that I can be reasonably sure that if my portrait ever hangs on a wall, there won't be a set of numbers along the bottom and a scowl on my face.

The closest I've come to a mugshot
The photo taken for a directory in college that
I didn't want taken   =)

Next week's challenge from No Story Too Small: "Week 14 (April 2-8) – Favorite Photo: Who is in a favorite photo of yours? Or tell the story of the photo itself — where was it taken, what was the event?" Time to dig through the photo folders...

Saturday, March 21, 2015

52 Ancestors: Same

"Week 12 (March 19-25) – Same. What ancestor is a lot like you? What ancestor do you have a lot in common? Same name? Same home town?" (No Story Too Small)

Deciding on this ancestor was harder than I would think. Different will be easier than same. I have several ancestors that have made me think, "What were you thinking?!?"

But same? Hmm... Same name...nope. I have yet to find an ancestor named Michelle and am not too likely to find one, except maybe, maybe among my French..but thus far, nope. Boyd goes back only a couple of generations (a story for another day). Same hometown? Maybe my parents but no one lived there before that (I've got to say that I have a lot in common with Mom and she is an ancestor but for the sake of privacy, I'll choose someone else).

So, after some thought, I decided to write about John Alexander Cameron. I have the same religious beliefs that he did. He had to leave home and most of his family and live very far away. I had to move far from all my family and all that I knew and move from the West to the East Coast for some time. We both spent part of our lives in Utah. He and his daughter, Catherine, were temple workers. My mother and I are temple workers. (I could have featured Catherine for this and other reasons perhaps but I've already featured her.)

John Alexander Cameron

John was born in 1818 at a house called Barachuil in Kimelford, Argyllshire, Scotland to Alexander and Catherine (MacCallum) Cameron. His father was a laborer and servant and John became a shoemaker. 

Photo taken by Alice Boyd

Sign for Barachuile
Photo taken by Alice Boyd

Kimelford church, where John was christened
Photo taken by Alice Boyd

One interesting thing to note is that in a photo of John in full kilt, he wears a tall feather, the sign of an armiger. My mother wrote, "John Cameron's character makes it unlikely that he would have worn the feather undeservedly, so it appears that he may have had noble roots. Also, a receipt for funds sent to Great Britain in 1861 shows him as John Cameron, Esq. Debrett's Peerage defines the use of Esquire as 'By the 14th century an esquire (armiger) practically attained equality with a knight, both in function and privileges.' The use of the title in England and Scotland indicated a person higher than a gentleman and lower than a knight. John was the oldest son in the family, so may have carried any hereditary titles due to the family. " For a frame of reference, seventy-two years before John's birth, the Clan Cameron had been on the frontlines in the Battle of Culloden. Cameron lands were forfeited for a time to the government and land clearances took place starting in 1801. The Industrial Revolution also contributed to social and economic upheaval.

John in his kilt

When John was a young man, Scotland's economic situation was such that he found it neccessary to go to Glasgow to find work. Here, he met both his first wife, Margaret Fairgrieve, and the Mormon missionaries. 1845 was an important year for him - in April, he married and in October, he was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Three years later, he left with Margaret and his little daughter, Catherine, for the United States to gather with other LDS church members. He left behind his father, mother, sisters Hellen and Flora (they made a blanket for him before he left, which he treasured), brothers Malcolm, Duncan, Peter, and Alexander ("Sandy"). John would receive letters from both his brother Peter and brother-in-law James (Flora's husband), which have been preserved.

The blanket John's sisters made for him

They arrived and went to Patterson, New Jersey. According to his great-grandson, John Henry Haslem, “In Patterson, they lived with Margaret's sister. John told his wife to not tell her sister they were Mormons as he knew their attitudes toward the Mormons. For a while she didn't, but she was so pleased with her membership that she finally told her sister, expecting her to be glad for her. Instead her sister ordered them out of their home.”

They did remain in New Jersey until 1852 when they (with the addition of a son, James Alexander) moved to Saint Louis, Missouri. His grandson George Henry Southam reports, “When they arrived in St. Louis, it was probably Friday night. They had enough money to buy food for his wife and two children and himself for one week, or else enough to pay for lodging for his family. They decided that they must have a place to live, so they spent every cent they had for lodging. He went out and got himself a job at his trade of shoemaking, but he could not start work until Monday. Being a faithful man, he located the Church, which was about nineteen blocks from where they lived. Sunday morning on his way to Church he found 25 cents in paper money lying on the board sidewalk. There were people coming and going all the way, but by the time he had reached the church, he had found enough money to feed his family for one week.”

In 1855, wife Margaret died. He married a second time to Mary McFall but she died in 1857. Here, too, John and Mary lost two daughters Margaret and Mary. Alice Parkinson was his third wife. 

With Alice and his children by Margaret (Catherine and James), Mary (Robert), and Alice (John), and perhaps Alice's nephew William, they left for Salt Lake City in 1861. Along the way, another daughter Jennette, was born and John fell sick. As I wrote before, his daughter Catherine drove the wagon most of the way.

John and his family settled first in Round Valley, then Randolph, Utah. In the 1890s, he and daughter Catherine worked at the Salt Lake Temple and did temple work for their ancestors. It was there that he gave Catherine the advice she needed to continue in her medical work. “The first year after the Salt Lake City Temple was dedicated, (1893) she was working in the temple, assisting her father to do the work for their dead relatives. She told her father that she thought she should have to give up the work among the sick as she felt it was almost more than she was able to stand - to take care of her family and be out with the sick so much. Her father said, "Catherine, you are all that your mother has to represent her here on earth and you are only fulfilling your patriarchal blessing where it says that you shall be as a well of living water in a desert, and people shall flow unto you and call you blessed.” (information from Amy Gardiner and Dorothy Hein)

Salt Lake Temple

My brother with John's knives, fork, coin purse, and shoes

Visit my mother's website to learn a lot more about John Alexander Cameron and his ancestors and John's kilt and other heirlooms.

I have things in common with many of my ancestors, besides DNA, and John is definitely one of them.

Like John, I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints
(photo of me and my brother on my baptism day)

Like John, I've had to leave family and home and live far away.
(photo of me and my dog, Gigi, at Colonial Williamsburg,
taken by Adam Boyd, during a visit)

Like John and Catherine, my Mom and I work
at the temple
(photo of the Oakland Temple, taken by me)

Next week's challenge from No Story Too Small: "Week 13 (March 26 – April 1) – Different. What ancestor seems to be your polar opposite? What ancestor did something that seems completely different than what they “should” have done or what you would have done?" Boy, do I have a story for this one!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

52 Ancestors: Luck of the Irish

"Week 11 (March 12-18) – Luck of the Irish. Do you have an ancestor who seemed particularly lucky? Do you have a favorite Irish ancestor? This is their week." (No Story Too Small)

St. Patrick's Day is coming!

Being LDS, it may be surprising that I love a holiday that most Americans associate with drinking funny-colored beer. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, on the other hand, do not drink. I do not drink. So, March 17 doesn't mean getting sloshed on beer and artificial green dye for me. 

But I do love St. Patrick's Day! And it does mean more than wearing green and avoiding pinches and decorating with the ubiquitous leprechaun to me (though I have been known to hide tiny leprechaun-ish surprises late at night on St. Patrick's Day for friends to find). And why should I? 

Why wouldn't I?!

I've loved this holiday since childhood because I'm about a fourth Irish and it's a day to celebrate my Irishness.

I love it because it honors a real man who had the courage to return to the land where he had been enslaved on a mission of mercy to share the Gospel as he knew it.

The Rock of Cashel, supposedly where Patrick converted the
King of Munster

A man who had an impact on a nation that would become the light and hope of Western Civilization in the early Middle Ages, preserving and sharing the knowledge of the ancient world with the nations of Europe.

Chi Rho page from the Book of Kells

I love it because I celebrate a remarkable people with a rich heritage of language and arts and preserving who they are in the face of adversity, a people from whom I received an inheritance of imagination and humor and perseverance.

From IrelandsEye.com

Now, as to highlighting a single Irish ancestor, how can I pick a favorite?

I've already introduced you to the Careys (Close to Home). And there's their ancestors, the families of Dwyer, Cullinane, Harrigan, Kennedy, Cunningham, Duane, Hickey, Allen, Kirby, Leddin, Gleeson, Morrissy, and Kiely, along with all those who are mine but whose names I do not know. They are all mine, a part of my heart, as well as my genes. They came from Counties Limerick and Tipperary, in Munster, the southwest of Ireland. They faced starvation in the Great Famine and left the land they loved--great-great-grandparents John Joseph Carey (and his mother Johanna (Cullinane) Carey), Mary Ann Harrigan, Maurice Hickey, and Margaret Leddin. They came to a country where they weren't always welcome and worked hard to become hard-working, educated, and respectable.

John Joseph Carey Sr.

The house that Maurice Hickey left behind in Lough Gur
Relatives Tom and Nora Hickey still own the house.

Beneath the bushes and yellow flowers is the foundation of an
even older house where generations of the Hickey family lived

Margaret (Leddin) Hickey

To learn more about these families, visit my mother's website on the Carey, Harrigan, Hickey, and Leddin families.

I love my Irish ancestors but since I'm supposed to highlight an ancestor, I think I'll share the experience of great-great-grandma Mary (Harrigan) Carey's arrival in America since it's a good example of that independent rebel spirit I'm so familiar with. I'll also share a modern connection, the first visit of family to Mary's brother's grave.

Mary (Harrigan) Carey

At the age of seventeen, Mary arrived at Castle Garden. She was destined for her sister Anne (Johanna) (Harrigan) Lynch's farm in Iowa. But then, before she was processed through, she just happened to see some her cousins, fun cousins...and here they were in New York City. Imagine being a teenager in a new land, headed for a farm, with one chance to see the great, bustling city of New York. Do you sigh and wish that your sister would let you have a little time there?

Well, that's what Mary didn't do. Over the fence she went. Records show her as "lost at sea." On the contrary, Mary was having the time of her life. My mother wrote that according to family stories, "They gave her a glorious week while her sister was looking for her."

Anne eventually caught up to her. Away they went to Clinton, Iowa, where "she worked very hard, mainly for thanks." Fortunately, she had another cousin, this time in Chicago, and so she ran away and stayed with Mrs. Lawson, her relative. There, she met her husband, John Joseph Carey.

As rebellious as she may have been as young woman, she expected behavior that was becoming to a family of respectable Irish immigrants who sought to defy the stereotypes. She seems to have been a formidable force in her adulthood.

Her granddaughter Dolores Carey Gonczo said, "Grandma ruled the roost - every year all the boys that worked, married or unmarried, bought a new front parlor carpet, and the year-old one went into the back parlor. The Carey boys had to be in by 9 p.m., and the man next door used to set his watch by the boys rounding the corner and sprinting on home.

Another event I remember (or was told about) is that she dictated that each one could only get married in chronological order. But my Father and Mother (who was German) decided to get married before John and Mae Hickey were married (John was two years older than my Dad), and that, coupled with the fact that my father was marrying a German girl, Grandma came to the wedding - but, she came in after the wedding party had gone down the aisle and sat in the back pew. Hence, she was the first one to congratulate them! She would never give the neighbors anything to talk about.

...But she was a lovely lady, and I do mean lady. I, too, had heard that she was much higher class than her husband, and many a time, sitting at her feet in the Morris chair, she would regale us with stories of Ireland, and the fact that "we are all descendants of Brian Boru on one side of her family and the King of Munster on the other side of her family." "

Another granddaughter, Ruth Wheelock Matheny, said, "My mother said that she was violently opposed to the use of makeup by her daughters. When they were young ladies, she would still stand by the front door with a damp cloth and swipe the face of anyone wearing even powder! They were a happy family, though, who made their own fun."

Another photo of Mary

When I think of Mary Harrigan, I think of a special moment I had while I was living in Virginia. Mary had a brother Patrick who left for America. What became of him was a mystery to Mary and her family. One daughter wrote, "Pat fought in Civil War with the Confederate army. No word was ever received from him. Mother often thought perhaps he was the father of Dr. Harrigan who looked much, very much like the Kennedy men."

His fate was discovered later. My mother found a muster roll for him.

In the remarks, it says, "Died at Richmond March 1862." She now we knew. He died at the age of 28 in the Civil War.

In 2010, I was living in Yorktown, Virginia. My daily commute took me past a Union soldiers' cemetery, over the famed Revolutionary battlefield, and across a Civil War trench. Williamsburg and Jamestown were an easy drive from my apartment. History was on my mind a lot there. While I spent most of my time exploring the colonial and revolutionary sites, the Civil War had left its mark and I began to think of my family's involvement. On my father's side, there were a number of Union soldiers and I looked up the information I had on each of them to see if any had a connection to Virginia. I remembered that my mother's family had a Confederate soldier, so I looked over my mother's research too.

Richmond! Patrick died in Richmond, only an hour away from Yorktown! If he died there, maybe he was buried there. But it was a good-sized city. Where to start?

The Union cemetery down Cook Road on my way to the Coast Guard Training Center made me wonder if the Confederates had a cemetery of their own. I searched for Confederate cemeteries in Richmond and discovered that there was a cemetery (Oakwood) in Richmond with a restoration committee. I decided to take a chance and see if any of the committee knew of a Patrick Harrigan.

One of the members graciously answered me: "I did find a Patrick Harrigan, Company B, 1st Virginia Battalion, born 1-13-1834, died 3-16-1862, at Hollywood Cemetery in Section SS B, Lot 308. Since he was a Virginian, I was able to go to the Virginia Regimental Series for the 1st Virginia Battalion by Robert J. Driver and Kevin C. Ruffner. This is the information they show on him: 'Harrigan, Patrick, Pvt, Co. B, Enlisted Covington 5/14/61. Absent sick in Richmond Hospital 7/19/61 until he died 3/62.'"

Hollywood Cemetery is a large cemetery with a tall, gray stone pyramid dedicated to the Confederate dead and a smaller black dog statue guarding one of the graves. It took work to find the area where Patrick was buried--the sexton's office was closed when I was there. There is no marker. But I found approximately where his body is at rest.

The Confederate Memorial
Hollywood Cemetery
(photo taken by me)

The Black Dog
Hollywood Cemetery
(photo taken by me)

The area where Patrick Harrigan is buried in an unmarked grave

It was a special moment. I was aware that I would have been the first family member to visit and that his immediate family would not have known of his death and would not have mourned. I thought of what I knew of mourning in the 1860s. I wore my best black dress (complete with black wool coat, gloves, and hat--it was cold) as would have been done back then. I brought a rose and left it as close to the grave as I could. I cleaned all the trash in the area.

And then, I said, "I found him, Mary."

My rose for Patrick

Next week's challenge from No Story Too Small: "Week 12 (March 19-25) – Same. What ancestor is a lot like you? What ancestor do you have a lot in common? Same name? Same home town?" My family tree is full of variety. I have saints and sinners. I have kings, peasants, and all sorts of people in between. I have lot of different choices for stories. But which one is a lot like me? Hmm, I'll have to reflect...

Monday, March 2, 2015

52 Ancestors: Stormy Weather

"Week 10 (March 5-11) – Stormy Weather. This is the time of year that the northern hemisphere starts to see severe storms. (As if the blizzards in New England this winter haven’t been bad enough!) What ancestor endured a particularly severe storm? It could be something like a tornado or blizzard or it could be a “storm” of bad things." (No Story Too Small)

An aunt in Ohio said earlier that it will be below zero tonight, friends in Virginia reported that church was cancelled because of snow, and it will probably snow overnight in Salt Lake City. Here? It's in the high 40s (60s in the day) with the next good chance of rain not until next week. Before anyone gets too jealous, remember we're still dealing with drought here. That said, I'm going to have to use my imagination as I tell the story of a storm that took place about 395 years ago.

"Howland Overboard" by Mike Haywood
During this storm, the now well-known Mayflower was in midst of the Atlantic. On board were the first of my ancestors to settle in America: John Howland, his future wife Elizabeth Tilley, and her parents John and Joan (Hurst) Tilley, as well as John Tilley's brother Edward and sister-in-law Ann. 

The Tilleys would all survive the voyage, only to perish, except for young Elizabeth, within that first year in the New World. Elizabeth, a teenager at the time, lived to adulthood and had ten children. How must she have felt during that first rough winter, witnessing all of the adults who were to take care of her die, knowing that she was the last of her family in the New World?

From Bradford's list of Mayflower passengers
John appears in the Carver household as a manservant.

The Tilleys also appear on this list.

But back to the storm and to John, the central player in this story. John was a servant of the Carver family, also aboard. Fellow pilgrim William Bradford later described him as being “a lusty young man.” He, along with the others, must have been pretty brave. They had risked everything for the privilege of practicing their religion, facing persecution and a fierce ocean for its sake.

And the Atlantic can be very fierce. Bradford stated, "In sundry of these storms the winds were so fierce and the seas so high, as they could not bear a knot of sail, but were forced to hull (lay-to) for divers days together." He called the storm of our story "mighty" and said that they were laying at hull. I could be wrong but this may be laying ahull. "No storm tactic is more controversial than lying ahull. The technique is simply to douse all sail, batten down the boat and let it find its own natural position in the sea. The tiller is usually tied to leeward (wheel to windward) to help the boat keep her bow from falling off too far. (From Day, George, "Heaving-to," Boats. com, 2000, retrieved 2 Mar 2015) This technique seems to involve allowing the vessel to drift, as it is not anchored.

The trouble started when John was "coming upon some occasion above the gratings" and fell overboard. Now exactly why John was where he was is unknown. Bradford didn't see fit to explain this part of the incident in full detail. 

Now, I must say that I have seen some claim that John must have been drunk to fall off the ship, which I must refute. There is nothing in any contemporary account to confirm this and it seems to be a fairly recent and apochryphal addition to the account. Not that I would object if were really so. I'm not the type to expect all my ancestors to have led entirely virtuous lives or to blindly refuse to acknowledge that they could have made mistakes or behaved badly. In fact, I have some very hilarious drunk Dutch colonists from the same century that I own to be mine as much as I do John. Sometimes, as a genealogist, you just have to roll with what the evidence gives you. However, there is no evidence to support the idea of him being tipsy and there is certainly no need to invent a reason for John falling overboard. To quote Tolkien, "There isn't no call to go talking of pushing and pulling [or being drunk]. Boats [or ships] are quite tricky enough for those that sit still without looking further for the cause of trouble." (Words in brackets added by me.)

Why did he probably fall overboard? I used to live near Jamestown, Virginia and had a number of opportunities to explore the replicas of the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery, the ships that carried the first Virginia settlers. The space below deck is limited, even without a full complement of passengers and cargo, and one docent explained to me that after bobbing on the ocean day after day in stagnant, smelly air, passengers relished any time they could even partially stick their cramped bodies above deck. There might be a number of reasons John may have been "above the gratings." 

Below deck on the larger of the Jamestown ships
(photo taken by me, 2010)

Whether he was supposed to be up there or not can only be guessed. But even if he wasn't supposed to be, it wouldn't shock me. I've seen people run out of a building during an earthquake, even though they're not supposed to (that is, if one values not having a dent in the head). What comes to mind at this point is the opening of Shakespeare's Tempest, where the passengers seem to be moving about the ship during the storm (annoying the crew, in that case). 

Bradford said that he was "with a seele (roll) of the ship, thrown into sea." The fact that he fell off a heaving deck, once he was up there, is hardly surprising. I don't drink at all but I'm pretty sure I could very well end up flipped off a deck if there was a mighty storm.

A topsail being set and furled
(Photo by IT2 Jack Shrader, showing the USS Constitution)

Anyways, what happened next is thrilling and amazing. Wrote Bradford, "...but it pleased God that he caught hold of the topsail halyards which hung overboard and ran out at length." A halyard is a line (basically rope, in layman's terms) used to hoist sails, yards, flags, etc., in this case, a topsail (the square sail set above the lowest sail on a mast). In other words, John fell but was able to grab onto a line, which ran out behind the drifting vessel.

That could easily have been his end. He could have easily given up and lost hold of that line. But he didn't! "Yet he held his hold (though he was sundry fathoms under water) till he was hauled up by the same rope to the brim of the water, and then with a boat hook and other means got into the ship again and his life saved." Such a close call!

Replica of the Howland house at Plimoth Plantation

Poor John was a little worse for the wear after his rescue but he survived. "And though he was something ill with it, yet he lived many years after and became a profitable member both in church and commonwealth." He married Elizabeth and had those ten children I mentioned. He died over fifty years later and the records of Plymouth Colony say that "Hee was a godly man and an ancient professor in the wayes of Christ ; hee liued vntill hee attained aboue eighty yeares in the world. Hee was one of the first comers into this land, and proued a vsefull instrument of good in his place, & was the last man that was left of those that came ouer in the shipp called the May Flower, that liued in Plymouth."

My brother, upon learning of John's near-fatal mishap, joked that he was our only ancestor to waterski to America! But in all seriousness, he was blessed to live and thrive. Besides me, his descendants include Joseph Smith, his wife Emma (Hale) Smith, several U.S. presidents, and Sir Winston Churchill. The world would be a very different place without John Howland and his posterity!

Chart of some of John and Elizabeth's descendants, which can been seen at
family history displays at some LDS temple visitors' centers

Next week's challenge from No Story Too Small: "Week 11 (March 12-18) – Luck of the Irish. Do you have an ancestor who seemed particularly lucky? Do you have a favorite Irish ancestor? This is their week." Oh, goodness! A good quarter of my family history is Irish. Next week, I gear up for St. Patrick's Day and celebrate my Irishness!