All content on this blog is copyright by Marci Andrews Wahlquist as of its date of publication.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Mr Newel’s House, or Turn Off Your Spell Check—It’s 1745!

I found among my father’s papers a typed transcript my great-grandfather financed of a very old book of records of the proceedings of the town of New Cambridge, Connecticut, from the 1740s through the 1820s. Transcribing the typed transcript for the internet appealed to me, but it is proving to be more challenging than I thought since of course spelling was not standardized until almost a hundred years later, and the different town clerks were creative to say the least.

There are several entertaining vignettes here. One of the first things they did after breaking away from Farmington was to debate and vote again and again on hiring a minister for their “society” as they called the town. A Mr. Samuel Newell was chosen, but the protests of the minority of voting members stalled the conclusion of this matter for several years. Finally, after a number of the dissenters formally declared their allegiance to the Church of England, the matter seemed settled. Here is part of what they contracted with Mr. Newell after he had accepted the job.

We the subscribers ebnezer hamblin leu samll gaylord ens edward gaylord being inhabitants of new Cambridge the fourth sosiaty of the Town of farmington and being chosen and impowrd by an act and vote of the inhabitants of new Cambridge at an ajornd meeting holden in new Cambridge above sd on the 20 day of July Ad 1747 do? for and in the behalf of such inhabitants of sd sosiaty as are lawful voters and have power and authority to make such contracts and agreements joynety and severelly Bind and oblige ourselves our executors administors and assigns to pay and satisfie to mr samll Newel to his executors &c the ful and just sum of one thousand pound in Bills of Credit of this Coleny in old tener at or before the first day of october A d 1749 for and in consideration of his contracting with us to be and his becoming our gospel minister & the duty and respect due to him as such and for his setelment amongst us
N. B. The Condishon of this obligation is such that if the above sd ebnezer hamblin leu samll gaylord edward gaylord shall within the space of one year and two Monuth from the day above of these presnce in good workman like maner erect build and set up one new tenement and dwelling house for the sd mr samll newel upon his land in new Cambridge whare he shall direct of thirty eight feet long and 23 feet wide and sixteen feet and half between joynts with a lintow ajoyning the back side 20 feet long and six feet wide containing five rooms below and shall workmanlike finish the lower rooms in the maner following viz well ceil the dwelling room and make sutiabel cobard and shelves for such rooms and lath plaster and whitewash the paler and bed rooms side and over head makeing all sutiabl convenant good and work manlike doors and partions suler? and chamber stars and dig and stone and a proper celler at lest sevin feet deep from the lower floor and the bignes of one end of the house from the chimny and in good and workman like maner Build and paint a stack of chimnys consisting of 3 funels from the botom and 2 more begining at the chambers making at least 2 brick ovens of a sutiabel bigness and in workmanlike maner make the window frams and shashes and glass for the whole house viz nine windows? consisting of 24 squairs of glass 6 and 8 size and one of eighteen squairs and seven with 12 of the same size and this is to be done by the later end of September A d 1749 and that they the sd Ebnezer hamblin samll gaylord edward gaylord thir excrs adm’r and asigns shall find and provide at thir own cost and charge all and all maner of timber stone brick laths Nails Iron glass lime clay sand and all other Materials whatsoever shall be fit and nesesery to be usd in and about sd Building and they so doing in maner and by the time above sd shall be quit of the above sd writen bond and oblygation otherwise it is to stand in ful force and Vertue & signed deliverd this 20 day of July A d 1747

                             hez Rew                    ebnezer hamblin
                             gershan tuttel          samll gaylord
                                                                 edward gaylord

Probably leu means Samuel Gaylord was a lieutenant, and for his brother Edward, ens probably means Ensign. Remember that in those days the only lawful voters were men over age 21 who owned land.

Bills of credit of this colony remind us that every colony in America issued its own currency, although they all followed the basic English system of pounds, shillings, and pence (not the modern decimal system though). Some further research turns up the possibility that these bills of credit were not worth the same face value as actual money. They may be worth up to a third less.

The meaning of old tener referred to the fact that English money had recently (in 1717) been revalued and put on a gold standard after international trade imbalances and problems with the Royal Mint had resulted in low levels of sterling silver in the country. Apparently the colony of Connecticut was resisting the change to some degree. Were the colonies always somewhat in revolt? Probably!

Consider Mr. Newell and his compensation for the job of preaching. He gets a nice little five-room house with a lean-to on the back, a stone-lined cellar, staircases to the upper floor and to the cellar, and chimneys with fireplaces large enough for cooking in, let alone those nine glass windows, something of a luxury. Besides the house, he gets grain to sell or consume and firewood to heat his house (those details are in the meeting minutes, not in this letter of contract; I’m not sure why, or whether there was another contract they didn’t copy into the book). Additionally, Mr. Newell gets a thousand pounds for the next couple of years’ worth of other expenses. In today’s money, that’d be somewhere around $200,000, but these are bills of credit, which probably reduces the value by as much as two thirds, to between $65,000 and $70,000. Still, not a bad pay package!

But considering that he had to deliver those good old hellfire-and-damnation sermons that seemed to be the popular thing in 18th-century America every Sunday of the year, I don’t envy him the house and grain and firewood and money . . .

Not to mention that I get spell check.

House built in then-New Cambridge for my distant kinsman Thomas Barnes, 1748

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

How Did the Barnes and Bedell Families Cross Again?

A few years ago I ran across a letter written to my 3rd-great grandmother about a scandal in the Barnes family, the family my grandmother was going to marry into. What happened was that one of the younger Barnes sisters, Eliza, had a fling with an older sister’s husband, a man named Henry Bedell, and a daughter was born to Eliza in October 1848. The older sister, Harriet, died four years after the scandal, still childless, and valiantly endeavoring in her letters to sound full of forgiveness and love and perseverance. I hope she had some happiness in her life!

Eliza married when her daughter was 15 years old. The husband gave his surname to the young girl, but the girl put Barnes down for her own maiden name when she herself married seven years after that.

Henry Bedell, meanwhile, had paid off Eliza and had nothing to do with his daughter, ever. After his wife died, Henry married again the next year and had a son named Henry Luzerne Bedell in 1855, and a daughter named Mary Eloise Bedell in 1862.

Fine. But in researching the rest of the Barnes siblings and what happened to them, I found that one of the Barnes brothers had a daughter whose death certificate was signed by “Mrs. Seth Bedell” of the same little town in Ohio as the Bedells almost a hundred years before. Were they related? Did they remember the scandal between the Bedells and Barnes families? How did this come about?

Back to that original Barnes family. Besides Harriet and Eliza, there were five other sisters and three brothers. One brother, Nathaniel Alverson Barnes, married a woman named Rosina Howard in early January 1843. Their first child, Martha, was born in early December of the same year. Their second child, Byron Johnson Barnes, was born in the spring of 1846, and then they didn’t have another child for fifteen years. Their two younger daughters were born in January 1861 and July 1863—they were Elizabeth Jane, called Lizzie, and Harriet Mary, called Hattie.

The eldest, Martha, married Andrew J Hatch in early May 1862, which at that time was considered late since a daughter was born four months later.

The 1870 Census shows the Barnes family living in Orwell township, out in the country where Nathaniel was farming. A family of Bedells were their neighbors—Martin and Amanda and their young children. Ten years later the Bedells had a “caboose”—a five-year-old son named Seth. In 1880 Lizzie was 19 and Hattie was 16. They and their older brother Byron, a carpenter, were still living with their parents.

The Martha Barnes Hatch family grew and grew. They had Lottie in 1862, Clara in 1864, Allen in 1868, Howard Andrew (or vice versa, as he changed his name) in 1870, Roy in 1874, Cornelia in 1879, and Rosina Susan (who also switched her name around to Susan Rosina) in 1882.

The 20th century censuses of 1900 through 1940 show the two single Barnes sisters living together in a house on North Maple Street, but not one with a house number, so it’s probably still considered to be out in the country. They are employed as dressmakers at a shop in town until they are too old to work any longer. Hattie died in November 1939, and Lizzie three years later.

Martha’s daughter Cornelia married that young Bedell neighbor, Seth, on June 28, 1900. She must have been close to her maiden aunties, Lizzie and Hattie. She is the one who signed Lizzie’s death certificate, and it is interesting how carefully she supplied every piece of information about Lizzie’s life and family and heritage. That’s why I think she loved her auntie.

Too bad she had only sons and couldn’t name a daughter after Lizzie or Hattie.

It is worth noting that there were no Henrys in this Bedell family branch. The two Bedell families came from New York and were living in the same little town in Ohio from the 1830s onward, so probably they were related. Seth’s great-uncle is mentioned in several of the letters that I inherited from that 3rd-great grandmother who became Julia Barnes. Uncle Lepper Bedell was one of Julia’s suitors until Truman Barnes won out.

What goes around comes around—in family names too, it seems.

Here is a letter written by Caroline Jane Palmer Alderman to her sister Julia Esalina Palmer (later Barnes) on April 2, 1848. Lepper Bedell is mentioned on the last line of the first page continuing to the first couple lines on the second page. If you’re on a computer, click to make the letter big enough to read it.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Most Wonderfully Awful Singer

I have just spent the afternoon reading about the weird and wacky world of Florence Foster Jenkins, about whom a new movie stars Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant. I have to see this movie as soon as possible.

I was introduced to Florence Foster Jenkins (not to her personally!) by a college professor who brought a recording of Jenkins singing the Queen of the Night aria from The Magic Flute by Mozart. That opera is one of the most sublime I ever saw. My literature professor had enjoyed a brief career as a professional violinist earlier in her life and had played in an orchestra for that opera once. She had discovered the music of Florence Foster Jenkins during her college years, and as we had had a film of the opera by Ingmar Bergman playing on campus during the week before, she thought we would enjoy hearing this strange performer of the classic aria.

She did not prepare us for what was coming, except to say that we would never have heard anything like this, and we would likely never hear anything like it again. And she put the record on the record player, and down went the needle into the groove.

I thought there was something wrong with the needle or with the turntable, but the professor was grinning at her little joke on us, and everybody looking around at each other began to laugh, and groan, and some even to howl softly. Here is a little bit of what we heard. You can go to the wikipedia entry on Florence Foster Jenkins to hear more, and You Tube has all of her recordings. I have them all too. They are available on CD and for download. In fact, they have never been out of print!

Mrs. Jenkins loved music and was extremely enthusiastic about her performances. That she had no tone, no timing, no rhythm, no pitch, and no judgment were never considered. She simply loved to share what she loved.

I can hardly wait to see how Meryl Streep interprets this macabre honesty.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

What Didn’t Happen That Day in London

In the mid-1980s I was given the assignment of taking a small group of students from my university on a summer term study abroad. The first few days of the trip were something of a fiasco as I dealt with the university travel office not having exchanged our money until the exchange rates soared; the coordination of schedules for my students who were not all traveling together so that I had to arrange how and when they were to meet me in London; and finally the one very absent-minded student who kept misplacing important things, beginning with leaving her jacket and umbrella on one of the airplanes.

We were staying on the corner of Queensway in Bayswater, and I warned the students about not leaving their windows open, not leaving anything in their rooms when they came down to breakfast, and generally being very careful about their passports and money everywhere we went in London.

So what did absent-minded Reba do? She left her passport, money, traveler’s checks, and everything important except her university card on her bed when she came down to breakfast, and of course it was all gone when she went back up to her room. She couldn’t understand it. I was exasperated with her.

We were scheduled to leave immediately after breakfast to begin our study abroad program of seeing literary sites around London. Fortunately my great friend Sari, who had been with me as a fellow student on a study abroad in London a few years before, had decided for fun to take my class as a graduate student, so I turned over the program and the rest of the students to her and took Reba with me to make the rounds of Officialdom to reinstate her identity and funds.

We went to the U.S. Embassy in Grosvenor Square, and there we were made to feel like fools for not having first contacted the police, or at least the hotel manager. (You may remember that my paint story had left me leery of dealing with Bayswater hotel managers.) Since we were already at the Embassy, we filled out all the necessary forms and applications, and I swore to Reba’s identity and she swore to the validity of her information.

We trekked back to the hotel and asked if the passport had been turned in at the desk. It hadn’t, and the management was somewhat predictably livid with anger at us for having gone to the Embassy before having told them. We apologized and felt more than ever like some sort of criminals rather than victims. We asked them to call the police for us, which the manager did, glaring at us all the while. He handed the phone to me, and the voice on the phone told me to come to this address at 2 p.m. sharp. I wrote everything down.

There were two hours to go, so we decided to get the traveler’s checks replaced at an American Express office. We went to the Midland Bank because we couldn’t find the American Express office I thought I knew of. The Midland Bank directed us to one that directed us to another that was straight across the street from the Embassy—we had not noticed it in coming out of the Embassy earlier. But that one directed us to another office, and then we were sent to the one in Haymarket Street, Picadilly. We were told that everyone knew that the only place to replace American Express traveler’s checks was the main office in Picadilly. We were not “everyone” until then.

While Reba faced the red tape there, I sat down in an alcove and began to compose a sonnet on a postcard to my friend Karen P. back home. I could hear Reba talking with a man in the queue, exchanging stories about how they had lost their traveler’s checks. Meanwhile, his friend came over to the alcove where I was and sat down to wait. I kept writing.

The other man came over and sat with his friend, and one of them began to question the other about a blind date he had been set up with: did she like classical music? Did she read much? Did she know art? Could she talk—did she have conversational skill? My pen stopped. I had never heard such young men talk like this about an unknown woman without mentioning appearance first, last, and everything in between. I wondered if they were rehearsing a play or something of the kind.

Then Reba had finished her business and came to find me. She greeted the young men and they began talking with her again. She introduced me. The one young man was from India, and obviously very rich. His tailor was the right tailor. The other was just about as good looking, but not quite as obviously rich. He said he was here with the American Bar Association convention. We all talked about travel and restaurants. They recommended a restaurant they knew in our home town, one that we had only just heard of and had not been to yet. Small world!

We told them the rest of our story and we heard theirs. For whatever seemingly rash reason, we both felt comfortable accepting a ride from them when they offered to drive us to the address of the police station. The car was chauffeur driven. And it turned out it wasn’t a police station at all when we got there. For an alarming minute I thought the young men, Natarajan and Roger, had duped us, but the address definitely matched the one I had been given on the telephone. It was in an alley where a lot of men with spiked hair and chains wrapped around their bodies were hanging out, smoking and looking at this car with not-nice looks.

We all looked at each other. Natarajan and Roger were swiftly changing to leather jackets as they told us stay with the chauffeur and lock all the doors while they went warily inside. Never had I actually seen two guys go from innocuous-if-rich looking to dangerous in a few seconds, certainly not outside the movies. It was unreal to say the least. Reba and I waited a few terrifying minutes, but the guys emerged quickly and we sped out of there without incident.

They were half laughing, half unnerved. They wouldn’t tell us what was inside. They just said, “Who gave you that address?”

We explained again that the manager of our hotel had handed me the telephone and it was supposed to be the police on the other end of the line. As we drove around London we discussed the problem from every angle of conjecture. Finally, they dropped us off at Kensington Gardens so we could walk back innocently and tell the manager, Mr. Sharom, that we had missed the police appointment somehow. On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at a telephone kiosk and called the police ourselves, making an appointment for the next morning. As we neared our hotel, we were still screened by the bushes of the park when we saw Mr. Sharom outside the hotel passing a packet to a man with a bread delivery truck. It looked very odd.

We jumped to the obvious conclusion: we were about to help undercover agents nail a passport ring!

The truck roared away and we crossed the street to the hotel. Our story of the missed appointment annoyed Mr. Sharom, but not too much, we thought. He seemed busy, so we didn’t tell him about our new appointment, and he didn’t offer to make another appointment for us. We went upstairs and found our group.

They wouldn’t believe our story.

The next day we kept our appointment at the police station, where we were again made to feel like fools or minor criminals for not reporting to them before anything else. We picked up Reba’s new documents at the Embassy and were able to join our group for a Dickensian pub crawl and Lincoln’s Inn tour. In the course of the tour we encountered seemingly hundreds of members of the American Bar Association, and among them, our friends Roger and Natarajan!

They greeted us warmly—“Hello! Hello! Did everything turn out all right? Enjoy your holiday! Don’t worry about anything anymore!” to the amazement of our group, who frankly had believed in neither them nor the details.

We were partially vindicated.

Truly, only a little of the middle section is not what actually happened!
See another incident after the official part of the trip was over: a Scottish adventure.