Friday, October 28, 2011

Family History, Family Mythology

Long before I became interested in genealogy, I had heard the story of how my ggg-grandfather had come from Barnstaple, Devon in the early 19th century to establish a fishing station in Newfoundland. A sister of my grandfather had been very fond of telling how William Cooke had brought over three sailing ships, two slaves and £80,000; and had then lost it all when the fishery collapsed.

Even before I began to research my family history, I had doubts about this story. Although slavery existed in the United States and in British possessions in the Caribbean, it was essentially non-existent in the United Kingdom and in Newfoundland. As well, £80,000 in 1820 would be worth almost three and a half million pounds today.

Eventually, after several years of research, the truth began to emerge. In 1817, William Cooke had left High Bickington, Devon to assume management of a fishing station located at Paradise on Placentia Bay on the south coast of Newfoundland. The fishing station had previously been owned by William's great-uncle George Cooke, and had been inherited by William's father in 1790. William's father was also majority owner of the brig Friends, built in Barnstaple in 1812. When William's father died in 1821, William inherited both the brig and the fishing station.

This brig, build in 1828, would have been similar to the brig Friends built at Barnstaple in 1812. (Source: Art Gallery of Nova Scotia)
The men who actually did the fishing often worked in very harsh conditions, however, they were not slaves. One of them, William Harding, recorded his experiences:
I and seven men more was sent in a cod seine skiff hauling codfish. We were sent off Sunday after dinner and not to return to the cookroom until Saturday evening. No place to sleep only a nap in the skiff, while one would be waiting for a haul of fish and only one meal of victuals cooked in twenty four hours. If we wanted more there was bread and butter and water in the skiff ... we had only one night in the week to sleep in our bed".
When William Cooke left Newfoundland in the late 1830s, it was not because the fishery had collapsed, but because it had slowly become unprofitable. As the youngest son, there was little in Devon for him to return to, so William decided instead to move to New Carlisle, Quebec, a small but thriving settlement on the Gaspe Peninsula that had been founded by United Empire Loyalists after the American Revolution.

My maternal grandfather's family also has it's share of mythology. My mother had heard stories about how the Jacques family were the descendants of French Huguenots who had fled persecution in the 17th century. Another story was that the Jacqueses has been involved in the manufacturing of beaver hats in the 17th and 18th centuries.

When I began researching the Jacqueses, I came across yet another myth, one that held that my grandfather was the descendant of a Colonel Henry Jacques who fled France during the Revolution. At least one distant cousin still holds to this belief, and this perhaps explains why he no longer responds to my emails.

The reality is not quite so dramatic, but is interesting in it's own right. My gggg-grandfather David Jacks was most likely born in Scotland, and was employed by the Curwen family as a gardener for their Belle Isle estate on Lake Windemere in Westmorland. The Windermere parish register shows a gradual change in spelling from Jacks to Jacques. The latter spelling had firmly taken hold by the time my ggg-grandfather moved south to Keighley, Yorkshire.

My sense is that my Jacques ancestors invented a mythology to make themselves more socially acceptable. It apparently worked. My ggg-grandfather married "above his station," as his wife was the niece of a mill owner. A brother of my gg-grandfather married a mill owner's daughter and eventually became a mill owner himself. My great-grandfather's brothers were architects and journalists. And they were apparently horrified when my great-grandfather married a coachman's daughter. This possibly explains why my great-grandfather emigrated to Canada.

So beware of family mythology. Although there may be grains of truths in the stories, the reality is often quite different, but just as fascinating.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Death by Misadventure

Merton is a Devon parish a few kilometres south of Great Torrington. Perhaps best known as the birthplace of General George MONCK (1608-1670) — the architect of the restoration of CHARLES II — Merton is also the birthplace of my ggg-grandfather Thomas SMITH (1807-1841).

This past summer during my trip to Devon, I spent some time viewing microfiche of the Merton burial registers, and noticed that in the mid 19th century the curate of Merton, John C. FISHER, and later the rector, J.C. KEMPE would include details of accidental or unusual deaths. Here are a few of the entries:
  • Jane HEYWOOD buried 30 Apr 1837 aged 4 "accidentally drowned in the Torridge"
  • William LUGG buried 4 Nov 1838 aged 40 "died of small pox"
  • Fanny MAYNE buried 19 Nov 1838 aged 5 "accidentally burnt five weeks before she died"
  • Eliza ELLACOTT buried 3 Feb 1839 aged 4 "accidentally burnt about a week before she died"
  • Thomas STACEY buried 29 Oct 1843 aged 22 "died from injuries received by a Waggon going over him — surviving only a few days"
  • Mary JOHNS buried 10 Jun 1845 aged 15 "accidentally drowned at Beaford Bridge"
  • Hannah BALKWILL buried 18 Aug 1847 aged 33 "killed in the harvest field by the cart going over her chest"
  • Priscilla CUDMORE bur 14 Aug 1859 aged 5 "her clothes caught fire during the temporary absence of her mother & died within 6 hours by the effect of the burns"
William LUGG's death from smallpox is somewhat unusual as it occured more than forty years after Dr. Edward JENNER discovered that immunity to the disease could be produced by inoculating a person with cowpox pus.

According to a brief article in Trewman's Exeter Flying Post, Eliza ELLACOTT "was accidentally burnt during the temporary absence of her elder sister who was left in charge of her."

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Caldwell and Beebe

February 1834 marriage of Joshua BEEBE to
Mary WATT. Joshua's mother Mary SECORD
was almost 100 years old at the time of the
marriage. (Source: Drouin Collection)

So I finally gave in and purchased a subscription to Ancestry. Previously, whenever I needed to check census information or use the Drouin Collection of Quebec Vital & Church Records, I would have to visit the library to access the Ancestry Library Edition, usually on a computer with a monitor far too small for the purpose. Far more convenient to work at home with a 24" widescreen monitor and a really comfortable chair.

Access to the Drouin Collection has been quite useful as I am currently updating and expanding my information on the CALDWELL and BEEBE families of New Carlisle on the Gaspe Peninsula of Quebec. I've previously written how my ggggg-grandmother, Mary SECORD (1734- ?), widow of Joshua BEEBE (1738-1778), settled at New Carlisle in 1784 with six of her seven children (four sons and two daughters). One son, Amasa BEEBE (1769-1862), did not marry, while another, Secord BEEBE (1764-1859), moved to Nova Scotia. The other two, Asa BEEBE (1772-1861) and Joshua BEEBE (1778-1844), had large families and some of their descendants still live in New Carlisle.

Joshua BEEBE had three wives and at least 11 children born over a forty year period. In fact, his third wife, Mary Ann WATT (1813- ?), was younger than several of the older children, and was not much older than Joshua's son Amasa BEEBE (1815-1901), who married Mary COOKE (1823-1873), sister of my gg-grandfather.

In the previous post I mentioned that Mary SECORD's youngest daughter, Sarah BEEBE (1774-1823) married Andrew Todd CALDWELL (1772-1827), son of Robert CALDWELL (1735-1825). Her descendants are proving to be rather elusive. A document dated 1816 records that Andrew and Sarah had four children, however, additional records exist for only two of them. Andrew and Sarah's daughter, Elizabeth CALDWELL (? -1864) married her cousin Adin BEEBE (? -1865) . Two of Andrew's nephews also married BEEBEs, while another two married COOKEs (sisters of my gg-grandfather). In 19th and early 20th century New Carlisle, almost everyone was related.

Many of the CALDWELL's were seafarers. Andrew Todd CALDWELL, for instance, apparently died at sea sailing from Boston to Halifax. Last year I was contacted by a CALDWELL descendant living in Australia who believed that his gg-grandfather, Charles CALDWELL (1812-1874), had been born in New Carlisle. The problem was that although it seemed likely that Charles was a grandchild of Robert CALDWELL, it was uncertain who the father was. Eventually my correspondent decided that Charles was the son of John Todd CALDWELL (1764-1850). Having now looked more closely at the data, however, I think it equally likely that any of John Todd CALDWELL's brothers, including Andrew Todd CALDWELL, could be the father.

Barring the discovery of a Caldwell bible, it is unlikely that this mystery will be solved. Records for New Carlisle from the early 19th century are almost non-existent, although clues can often be found in later records preserved in the Droiun Collection.