52 Ancestors: #14 William John Bessacs Silver Teaspoon

William John Bessac’s Silver Teaspoon


Bessac Coin Silver Teaspoon 1810-1825

One of my brick walls, genealogically speaking, is finding the first immigrant to America in my Martin line, or even finding where he came from. (I’ve mentioned my great-grandfather, George Martin, in my previous post about his wife, Julia Carhart Martin Durfey in post #7). There are at least four cousins who have tried to solve this mystery, with no luck. We know George’s father was named Robert, as was his father before him. We know when each was born, and we know whom they each married. But we can find nothing beyond Robert Senior. One source, a book known for having a lot of inaccuracies, says Robert Senior came from Northern Ireland. A Federal Census record says he was born in New York (1768- 69). But he married a Swedish lady (Elizabeth Utter) in a Dutch Reformed Church in Albany, NY. Robert Sr. and Elizabeth named their children Margery, Martha, Mary, and Robert Jr.  Robert Jr. and his wives named their children Harriet, Charles, George, Elizabeth, and Henry. These names don’t shout out any particular nationality to me.

An Ancestry DNA analysis has put me in touch with another cousin, and she has struggled with the same brick wall. So I believe it’s time to expand the search. Robert Martin Jr. had three sisters, two of whom married, and they may have descendants living in the same general area. One of these is Martha Martin Bessac.

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Martha Martin Bessac

A Google search easily located her husband, William John Bessac, whose father was a French fur trader, living in Hudson, NY, but traveling north with goods to trade, and back with furs. His son, William John Bessac (not to be confused with his younger brother, John William Bessac!), worked as a silversmith from 1810 to 1825. And let me just say I love Google—it turned up an eBay offering of a silver teaspoon made by the very same William John Bessac!

I haven’t searched for Bessacs to call, hoping to find one of them who has researched their family, and who may just have more information on Martha Martin. But I do now own a genuine “coin silver teaspoon” made by William John Bessac! And this led me to non-genealogy research. It got me thinking about what this spoon may have been used for. Did it stir sugar into tea, as we might use it today? Well, now, wait a minute. Did they even have refined sugar back then? Or did they just have honey and maple syrup to use as a sweetener? It turns out, they probably had plenty of sugar—the Caribbean was the largest producer of sugar in the world at that time (and that was responsible for importing enormous numbers of slaves to work the plantations). But it seems that the first teaspoons were developed for skimming the floating tea leaves off the top of the tea, not for stirring sweeteners into it.

What does it mean that my spoon is a “coin silver” teaspoon? Spoons were made in three basic ways. One way was to cut a spoon-shaped blank out of a flat sheet of silver and pound the bowl into shape (or use a spoon “press”) and then just finish up the edges. Another way was to heat the steel and form it into shape with tongs and a hammer. And the third way was to start with silver coins and melt them down. But coin silver doesn’t have to have started out as a coin. Anything that was not Sterling Silver, was called coin silver. While it was 90% silver, that was 2.5% less than Sterling, and therefore considered less valuable. So while coin silver may not have started as a coin, it had the same composition as silver coins of that time.


Maker’s Mark

You’ll also notice the “Maker’s Mark” impressed onto the back of the handle, guaranteeing that it was a genuine Bessac spoon. On the other side of the handle you’ll notice the engraved monogram. There were several reasons to do this. One may have simply been pride of ownership. (Paupers had no silver spoons).



Engraved Monogram

Another may have simply been proof of ownership—it’s much less likely that a spoon would “walk off” if it was so marked. And if lost, it could easily be returned by the finder. It also turns out that silver spoons were frequently given as baptismal gifts. How nice to receive a spoon with the babies initials engraved on it!


So, while I may be no closer to finding the Martin line’s origin, I now have a very nice silver spoon with a direct connection to my three times grand aunt, Martha Martin Bessac, and I’m much more knowledgeable about silver spoons– and I may have started a new collection!


52 Ancestors: #13 Lena Monen Hetletvedt (Ole and Lena, Part II)

Aaselena Monen Hetletvedt

Ole T's family portrait 001 (2)

Lena Monen Hetletvedt


It was probably October, that sunny afternoon in 1957, when I spotted something shiny moving through the sky. Grandma’s eyes weren’t sharp enough to see it, but Mom did, and even though she knew it was a plane, she said, “Maybe it’s Sputnik!” To which Grandma replied, “Ooooh, you don’t believe that thing is really up there, do you?” Grandma was born October 15, 1890, and while she had adjusted to telephones, and cars, and even electricity (and tv!), there was no way she could accept a piece of metal orbiting around the earth!

Lena (as everyone knew her) Monen, my grandmother, seemed as Norwegian as you could get, but she was born in Iowa. So was her mother, who travelled with her mother and step-father by covered wagon from North-east Iowa to North-west Iowa in 1869. They lived in a Norwegian-dominated rural area, and they spoke Norwegian at home. Grandma had five years of schooling, and she read and wrote and spoke English as well as any of her children did. (Except for saying “winegar” instead of “vinegar.”) She made wonderful lefse, and her lutefisk might have been good, too… I don’t feel qualified to judge codfish—or anything else– that has been soaked in lye! She crocheted, and knit mittens for her grandchildren every Christmas. Christmas always brought all five adult children, their spouses and the grandkids, home for a traditional Norwegian meal on Christmas Eve, followed by opening presents afterwards. (Grandma had six children but lost one son to the Spanish Flu in 1918).

The Dutch weren’t the only ones who used wooden shoes. Grandpa was an accomplished woodworker, and he once carved himself a pair of wooden shoes. Unfortunately for him, Grandma tried them on, and they fit. She loved them, and started wearing them all the time… eventually wearing them out.

Ole and Lena 001 (3)

Ole and Lena cutting their anniversary cake


Grandma took teasing well. I don’t think she had a choice, with three intelligent, teasing-prone sons. One night, just as they had finished eating supper, she wondered if the kerosene lamp she’d left lit in the next room was still burning or if it had gone out. She went to see; it had gone out, so she struck a match to relight it. Unfortunately, the sound of the match being struck carried into the kitchen. “Ma,” one of the boys said, “Did you have to strike a match to see if the lamp was still lit?”

I remember seeing Grandma angry only one time. She had been shopping in one of the department stores in Sioux Falls, and one of the store clerks pulled her aside and accused her of shoplifting! She was the last person on earth who would do such a thing, and weeks later, when one of her daughters was telling us about it, Grandma, still upset, exclaimed, “I’m no sticky-fingers!”

Grandma developed a heart condition. The doctor told her, “From now on, your place is from the bed to the chair. If you can do that, you might live several more years.” She explained that she was a farm wife, and didn’t see how that was possible. She might have slowed down, but kept on cooking for Grandpa and Uncle Roy, who lived and farmed with them. Eventually she started having mini-strokes, and passed away on September 3, 1965. She is buried next to Grandpa in Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, near Inwood, Iowa, among many relatives, including her parents, her grandparents, and her great-grandparents, who were born in Norway in the 1700s. Her great-grandfather was the first white person buried in Lyon County, Iowa.

52 Ancestors: #13 Ole Olson Hetletvedt (Ole and Lena, Part I)

Ole Olson Hetletveit

Hetlet misc 2 001

Ole (left) and Lars Hetletvedt


There’s a small island, roughly 5 miles wide and 7 miles long, off the southwestern coast of Norway, called Ombo. There’s a farm on the northwest side of this island with the name of Hetletvedt. It’s high enough that my grandfather used to ride his sled the half-mile from the farm to school, downhill all the way. But there was seldom enough snow to do that.

Grandpa was born on this farm on December 5, 1881, and was named Ole, after his maternal grandfather (This was because he was the second son. The first son, Lars, was named after his paternal grandfather. This naming pattern wasn’t inviolate, but held pretty strongly for many years throughout Norway). Ole and Lars, and, in fact, all their brothers as well, shared the middle name of Olson (because their father’s name was Ole). Their sisters shared the middle name of Olsdatter. Their last name was Hetletvedt, and would remain so only as long as they lived on the Hetletvedt farm.

In Grandpa’s case, that was until he became 19 years of age. He had been talking about emigrating to South Africa, but Lars already had a ticket to America, and when Lars became sick, Grandpa used his ticket and came to Iowa. Once in America, you could pretty well go by whatever name you wanted. Some would have chosen to go by Ole Olson, but Grandpa probably thought there were already too many Olsons around, so he just shortened the last name to Hetlet. He still signed Hetletvedt for legal purposes, but his children were all legally named Hetlet.

Once in America, Grandpa journeyed to northwest Iowa, where he farmed for a few years and then moved to North Dakota, near Bismarck, where, in April of 1907, he filed for a homestead claim near Kidder. His younger brother, Kristen, filed on the adjoining land. They also had a couple uncles and a cousin homesteading in that area.

Grandpa built his homestead shack and started farming. But he returned to Iowa long enough to marry a tall, fair-haired Norwegian lady named Lena Monen, on February 25, 1909. Then, back to the homestead, but they returned to Iowa the next winter, as their first child, Myrtle Gurina, was born December 31, 1909, near Inwood, Iowa. Their second child, Olaf, was born on the homestead May 26, 1911.

The homestead officially became theirs in April of 1912. I’m not sure when they moved back to Iowa permanently, but my father, Odin, was born there on December 13, 1913. In April of 1916, they sold the homestead to Lena’s father, Ole T. Monen, who was known for buying and selling land and cattle.

Oliver Leroy was born in 1916, and life seemed good—until the fall of 1918, when the entire family (except for Odin) was stricken with the Spanish Flu. It took the life of Oliver, but spared the rest. Ole said that from then on, for the rest of his life, he would go to bed about nine o’clock at night, and awaken around one o’clock, in pain, and not be able to get back to sleep.

The next son was born in 1920 and was given the same name as his deceased brother, but was known to all as Roy. June was born ten years later, completing the family.

Hetlet misc 001

left to right: Olaf, Leroy, Odin, Ole, Lena, Myrtle, June



Although I grew up on a farm 100 miles north of Grandpa and Grandma’s farm in Iowa, we would frequently make the trip down there for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and sometimes for other special occasions. So I was very familiar with this farm, but I wondered what their homestead land in North Dakota was like. Several years ago I made a trip up there to see. I found it confusing, as the map I had showed the lake Grandpa’s land and Kris’ land adjoined, to be a mile farther north than the mileage I checked on the odometer. Not long after this, I was showing the photos I’d taken, the map, etc. to my nephew Marshall, who is a land surveyor. He pulled out his laptop, entered some data, and said, “A more recent map shows that the homestead is now under water. The north shore of the lake is a mile farther to the north than it was when this map was made.” When I told my father about this, he didn’t seem too surprised, and he told me a story he’d heard from Grandpa. One year a wheat threshing crew parked the threshing machine in a low spot one night, not far from Grandpa’s homestead, and on coming back the next morning, after a heavy rain, all they could see of the threshing machine was the exhaust pipe sticking up out of the water! Apparently there had been several especially wet years just before my visit to the homestead—enough to significantly expand the lake.

Before going to look for the homestead, I called a distant relative who had lived not far from the homestead as little girl, and she had invited me out to the farm, where we shared stories and pored over the maps. One thing she didn’t pour, however, was coffee. As I was leaving she said, “Oh, dear! I didn’t even think to offer you coffee!” I replied, “Yes, I was starting to wonder if you were an imposter, as I’ve never known a Norwegian to not offer coffee!”

Grandpa and Grandma farmed their whole life, all of it in Iowa after leaving the homestead—except for two years. Grandma felt that they had spent all their lives living close to their daughters, and thought they should now spend time closer to their sons, so they bought a farm near Clear Lake, South Dakota, about 12 miles from where we lived, and 28 miles from where Olaf and his family lived. Two years later they returned to their farm in Iowa… their Iowan roots were too strong to ignore!

Grandpa died from pneumonia on June 7, 1967, less than two years after Grandma had died. He was 85 years old, and my aunt said when she went to the hospital to visit him, he had no tubes or needles attached to him, and she thought this had been at his request.

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Lena and Ole Hetletvedt on their farm in Iowa


I feel that any Norwegian named Ole who marries a Norwegian named Lena, deserves to have an Ole and Lena joke told. Of all of the ones I’ve heard, this is my favorite:

I have a friend who lives in a cul-de-sac, and every year, all the residents gather for a pre-Christmas get-together. One of the men invariably told an Ole and Lena joke. One year he announced that he had decided these jokes might be insulting to Norwegians, so he wasn’t going to tell any more. Then one day he came across a Bible reference to a tribe of people called the Hittites. A little searching told him that the Hittites no longer existed. So he decided it would be OK to tell a joke about a people that no longer existed. So, at the gathering, he announced that he had a Hittite joke he wanted to share. And he said, “There were these two Hittites,” and then he continued, ” named Ole and Lena….”

52 Ancestors: #12 Odin Hetlet, Spanish Flu Survivor


Odin and Clarice

Odin & Clarice (Stephenson) Hetlet

On that fall day of 1918, Odin trudged from the house to the barn, dragging a milk bucket half as big as he was, thinking, “I haven’t had five birthdays, yet, but I know I’m big enough to milk a cow! I just hope she stands still for me.” He had to try to milk the cow. His little brother Oliver needed the milk. And he did it. You might be thinking this sounds like something out of a Dickens novel–what kind of parents would ask their four-year-old son to stand near the kicking end of a 1,000 pound cow, unsupervised? The kind who had been stricken with the Spanish Flu, and couldn’t even get out of bed, that’s what kind. Dad’s older brother and sister, Olaf and Myrtle, were equally bad off. And they needed the milk, for the youngest boy, Oliver Leroy, also sick. Since Dad didn’t catch the flu, or at least showed no symptoms, he was the only one capable of going out for milk. The family survived, except for little Oliver. Grandpa had some lingering effects from it the rest of his life. (He was unable to sleep a full night, always waking to pain after a few hours of sleep). Two years later, another son was born, and, as was usual in Norwegian families in those days, was also named Oliver Leroy, but he was known as Roy all his life. June completed the family, being born ten years later.


Odin was born on December 13th, 1913, in Klondike, Iowa, and grew up on a farm between Inwood and Larchwood, Iowa, with three brothers and two sisters, and his parents, Ole and Lena (Monen) Hetlet. Yes, I said Ole and Lena. (Technically, her name was Aaselena, but everyone knew her as Lena). And nobody enjoys an Ole and Lena joke as much as a Norwegian! (I find a lot of Norwegians to be self-effacing).

Odin’s childhood was typical for a farm kid in those days. That means leisure time spent playing, riding horseback, schooling, attending the local Lutheran church, and occasionally taking time to go to a lake or the Sioux River for fishing, interspersed with long hours of hard farm labor.

After graduating from high school, one week-end, Dad and one of his cousins crossed the Big Sioux River to spend the evening in Sioux Falls. (I don’t mean for “crossing the Big Sioux River” to sound quite so adventurous—there were roads and bridges by this time, and they were driving a car). This was where Dad met a pretty young lady named Clarice Stephenson, who eventually became his wife and my mother. Dad frequently joked that he had to cross the river to find a woman he wasn’t related to. I thought this was just his little joke, since he had so many cousins in Iowa, but I recently learned that one of the girls he had dated before “crossing the river” was his first cousin! This probably didn’t seem all that unusual to them, as their grandparents had been first cousins, and all their kids turned out pretty normal.

When Dad asked Mom to marry him, he had two stipulations: he wouldn’t wear socks that had been darned, and he wouldn’t eat home-baked bread. Mom replied that that shouldn’t be a problem, as she didn’t like to sew and she didn’t like to bake!

Odin shoveling corn

Odin shoveling corn


They married September 14th, 1941, and lived and farmed with his folks. Larry was born in 1942, and I was born in 1944. A year later they moved a hundred miles north, to a farm one-half mile south of a little town called Bemis, South Dakota. The farmhouse stood on top of a hill with a long drive-way, and had virtually no trees. They arrived on a rainy, gloomy, spring day, and after walking into the cold, depressingly-tiny farmhouse, Mom said that if the truck driver had asked her to ride back to Iowa with him, she’d have gone! But she planted flowers and a vegetable garden, painted the rooms, bought new furniture as they could, got to know the neighbors, and settled in, although I think she always missed being close to family.

Dad kept a pair of big, black work horses, and preferred using them for some of the farm work, although when they died, he never replaced them. Tractors were just more efficient. We did have three riding horses over the years. He grew a variety of crops—corn, oats, flax, sorghum, wheat, alfalfa—and raised a variety of livestock, as well—dairy cattle, beef cattle, sheep, hogs, and chickens, which fell to Mom’s care (including gathering, washing, and packing well over a hundred eggs each day). One silly little story concerning eggs sums up, in my mind, my parents good-natured relationship.

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Odin & Clarice– 10th Wedding Anniversary

Stacks of hay bales always left little openings big enough for hens to crawl into and lay their eggs. One fall day, Dad saw Mom gathering eggs from these openings, and sticking them into the pockets of the Levi jacket she was wearing. Not wanting to miss out on the opportunity for a good practical joke, he hurried over to her and caught her in an embrace, tight enough to hear the eggs breaking. He started chuckling; then, she started laughing– loudly. “Why are you laughing?” he asked. “Because,” she replied, “I’m wearing your jacket!”


This was the time of a shifting of eras, farm-wise. When Dad was young, all farm work was done with horses, Kerosene lamps and lanterns gave their only source of light. Laundry was washed on stones in the creek (OK, I’m joking about that last part). In the early 50s, electricity became available. This brought an end to hand-milking, and brought running water and indoor plumbing (goodbye, Saturday night baths!), and even a black and white television set, which got three channels, although sometimes they were too “snowy” to watch.

I recall a conversation around the supper table one night, although I don’t know how it started. The topic was people being satisfied in their marriages. Mom said, “Well, I think I did pretty good.” Dad replied, “Oh, I don’t know how good you did.” Then, after a pause, added, “But you probably did as good as you could.” Self-effacement coupled with teasing!

Dad slowly developed allergies—mostly hay-fever and grain-dust—and decided to sell the farm in 1967. They moved to Colorado Springs, and Dad still did odd-jobs—mostly of a carpentry type, but for all practical purposes, he had retired at 54 years of age. This left them time to travel, including to Alaska several times, where Larry and his family lived, and to become “snow birds,” spending winters in Phoenix, Arizona for a number of years.

Mom died in November of 1999, and Dad continued to live alone for all but the last couple years of his life, which he spent in an Assisted Living home. He said he liked living there, with all of his needs taken care of. In talking to the staff, it became obvious that Dad was one of their favorites—that’s what being a non-complainer and having a light-hearted nature will do for you! Dad retained his sense-of-humor and his reasoning power, but did lose a lot of his short-term memory. He told me one day that he had met a lady in the home from the same county he had grown up in, and had someone to share stories with. “Of course,” he added, smiling, “I can’t remember which lady it was.”

Dad commented one day that a distant relative of his, who was well into his 90s, “just might live to 100.” I asked if that was one of his goals, and he said, “Well, it used to be, but every year closer I get, I up it a little.” He didn’t make it, but he did nearly reach 93, dying on September 29, 2006.

I could sum Dad up in one word—“Norwegian.” By this I mean reserved, but caring. Intelligent, but self-effacing (most of the time). Physically strong, but never overbearing or bullying. Fair, always. Conservative (but he lived long enough to outgrow much of that). Resourceful. Light-hearted. Financially responsible, and stubborn to a fault (you might argue this, but you’ll never convince me I’m wrong).

52 Ancestors: #11 John Wesley Carhart (Minister arrested for sending Obscene Literature thru mail!)


There’s one more Carhart who deserves mention before I verge off onto other family lines. He is a first cousin, once removed, to my great-great-grandmother, Julia Carhart, with whom you’re all familiar (post # 7).
I suppose if you’re named John Wesley, you’re pre-ordained to become ordained as a Methodist minister, like the original John Wesley– once described as “the most

John Wesley, British Anglican

popular man in England.” He was an Anglican minister who, while remaining in the Anglican Church, started the Methodist movement. I guess that pre-ordained bit doesn’t always hold, as with John Wesley Hardin, the notorious Western gun-slinger. Nor did it hold with the John Wesley (last name withheld due to I can’t remember it) I met back in the sixties, while he lived in his car, year-round, along the Cache La Poudre River near LaPorte, CO. (He appeared to have, Thoreau-like, immersed himself in nature, along with his pet garter snake. Unlike Thoreau, he seemed to have separated himself from society at large. A friend once gave him a portable transistor radio. When the batteries died, he gave it back, refusing new batteries. I guess he didn’t like what he had heard).

Our John Wesley took a different route, seeming to have immersed himself in society to a staggering degree. He was born on June 26th, 1834, and twenty years later had graduated from the Charlotteville Seminary, and was appointed Professor of Greek and Latin in the Warnersville Union Seminary in 1855. He joined the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1847, was licensed to preach in 1855, was ordained a deacon in 1857, an elder in 1859, and received the degree of D.D. from the University of Kentucky in 1862. Somehow he also found time to marry Theresa Mumford (1857) and carry on a writing career.
He pastored in New England and Wisconsin, published two books of poetry, Sunny Hours (1859) and Poets and Poetry of the Hebrews (1865), and patented an oscillating valve for steam engines. In the 1870s, he built the first self-propelled, wheeled vehicle to operate in the United States. It was known as “The Spark,” and is generally recognized by historians as the first American automobile. While it was a success, there is a dubious report that he was encouraged to discontinue developing it further after an expensive horse died following an injury due to panicking near The Spark. (Fifty years later, in an interview with reporters in San Antonio, where he spent the last seven years of his life, Carhart recalled the “formidable stream of fire and smoke ascending” from the auto’s vertical smokestack, but denied reports that his vehicle had scared horses to death.)
In 1883, after resigning the ministry (one report says he lost interest, another mentions dissension in the congregation) and graduating from the Chicago College of Physicians, the doctor headed for Texas. He settled first in Lampasas, where he practiced medicine and became known as a leading skin and nerve specialist and a spokesman for better sanitation. He also continued to write, both medical articles and more creative books.
According to Gene Fowler, Austin, writing in the August, 1999 issue of Texas Highways Magazine:

His literary endeavors sometimes conflicted with traditional 19th-Century values. In 1895, while living in La Grange, he was arrested for “sending obscene literature through the mails”:


novel by John Wesley Carhart

At the end of his novel, “Norma Trist”, an “alienist” (psychiatrist) is brought in to “cure” the main character of her love for another woman. The authorities eventually dropped the charges. Dr. Carhart’s last book, “Under Palmetto and Pine” (1899), presented sensitive portraits of African Americans in Texas struggling against discrimination and poverty.”



52 Ancestors: # 10 Mary Lord Carhart (Lord, Witchcraft in MY Family?)

Mary Lord CarhartMary Lord Carhart
This post will be about several related individuals, but my 7th great-grandmother, Mary Lord Carhart, gets the headline, only because I have a picture of her. If you want to be remembered through time, have your portrait painted. And it wouldn’t hurt to come from one prominent family and marry into another one. Another way to be remembered would be to get yourself accused of witchcraft. Even prominent families aren’t immune to that. We’ll get to that later.

Mary was born to Robert Lord and Rebecca Phillips on July 13, 1668, in Cambridge Massachusetts. She married a foreigner–Thomas Carhart– in November of 1691, at Cambridge, Massachusetts. Thomas was born in Cornwall, England about 1650, and arrived in America August 25, 1683, holding the appointment of private secretary to Colonel Thomas Donga, English Governor to the Colonies in America. (See what I said about prominent families)? Thomas and Mary lived on Staten Island until the spring of 1695, when they moved to Woodbridge, New Jersey, where he died sometime between March of 1895 and April of 1896 (the time between the writing of his will and when it was probated). He left Mary with three young sons, John, Robert, and William. Mary remarried, to Thomas Warne, who raised the sons with her, as his own, leaving them 600 acres to be split among them in his will.

Mary’s grandfather, Major William Phillips, moved from Cambridge to Boston in 1646, where he became a vintner. In 1660, he moved to Saco, Maine, where he engaged extensively in a large logging operation with his son-in-law, John Alden. (That name should be familiar to you if you’re knowledgeable about the Plymouth Colony pilgrims, or if you’ve read much of Longfellow’s writings). Phillips was appointed one of the King’s Commissioners and, in 1665, was appointed Major Commandant of the military forces of the Providence of Maine. Major Phillip’s third wife, Bridget Sanford, was the daughter of William and Ann Hutchinson—“the prophetess of doleful prophesies,” who was murdered by the Indians in 1643. The Major moved back to Boston when the Indian Troubles started in 1675, when his house and mills were burned, and he died there in 1683. (It seems to me that the Indian Troubles started in 1643, at least for his mother-in-law). I’m unable to find anything about the “doleful prophecies,” but Anne Hutchinson actively followed a growing sect of Puritanism, having meetings in her house several times each week. Rather than risk having the Puritan church split apart by her actions, she was banished from Boston.

If you’ve read this far, and you’re going to be honest, it’s only because I mentioned witchcraft, right? Well, first I have to know that you know who John Alden was. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a story about two of his Pilgrim ancestors called The Courtship of Miles Standish. Two of the three main characters are John Alden, “Fair-haired, azure-eyed, with the delicate Saxon complexion, having the dew of his youth, and the beauty thereof…” who married Priscilla Mullins, “the loveliest maiden of Plymouth.” The first son of this couple was also named John, and this is the John Alden mentioned above, who entered into a logging operation with his father-in-law, Major Phillips. John had married Elizabeth Phillips, so this made him Mary Lord Carhart’s uncle (through marriage). (Uncle-in-law, would be the proper term, but one seldom used).
John, in addition to the lumber enterprise, was a sea captain and a charter member of Reverend Samuel Willard’s Third Church of Boston. (In other words, a well-respected and upstanding kind of man). In 1692 he had gone to Quebec to ransom some British prisoners who had been captured in the Candlemas attack (part of the Indian Troubles), on York, Maine. Unfortunately, in May, he made the unfortunate decision to stop in Salem on his return, during the infamous Salem Witch Trials, where he was accused of witchcraft. Age granted no immunity to being accused; he was 69 years old at the time. The charges seemed pretty frivolous; the girls accusing him admitted they didn’t know him and had never seen him before. However, a man supporting one of the girls (they tended to go weak and tip over in the presence of witches) was seen to lean over and whisper into her ear, whereupon she named John Alden as being the witch in question. He was imprisoned, but he and several others broke out (one records says they bribed the guards), and fled to New York for several months, until, as he said, “the public had reclaimed the use of its reason.” On his return, he was cleared of the charges by proclamation.
And since I’m name-dropping, one of the judges of the Salem Witch Trials was John Hathorne, ancestor to the novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne. Nathaniel added the “w” to the name in 1830, some say to distinguish himself from this judge—the only judge involved in the witch trials to not repent of his actions. (I’m also distantly related to the Hawthorne family, so this came close to being a case of one ancestor having another one hanged).

About the painting of Mary Lord Carhart, information from Dorothy Mitchell McClure states: “From an old oil painting of Mary Lord Carhart: The lace covering over her neck and breast does not show in this as it does in some of the copies.” Also, the original photo on the internet is black and white. jmk posted this on an internet site called Evermore concerning the colorized image:
“The image above is not an attempt to recreate the Mary Lord Carhart painting, which I’ve never seen. I’ve only brought out the texture of the paint and canvas so we can see that it is likely a miniature, and added color so that we can better distinguish Mary from the background.”
The painting is said to have hung in a Boston museum.

52 Ancestors: #9 Solomon Carhart (Mistakes, Assumptions, and Surprises)

Solomon Carhart

SONY DSCIn Coeymans Hollow Cemetery in Coeymans Hollow, Albany County, New York, there stands a lichen-stained, cracked tombstone marking the resting place of Caty, wife of Solomon Carhart.  Lying to the right of it is her husband’s stone, that years ago lost its battle with gravity, tumbling to the ground. Grass grows through the ever-widening crack that splits it in two, top from bottom.

49874531_126888781388My 3rd great-grandfather, Solomon Carhart, was born September 6, 1782. One of the difficulties tied in with genealogical research is that the farther back in time one goes, the fewer sources are available that deal with each ancestor. Another difficulty is that not every source is reliable.

Fortunately, there is a book called A Genealogical Record of the Descendants of Thomas Carhart, of Cornwall, England by Mary E. (Carhart) Dusenbury. The book contains 142 pages, was written between 1873 and 1880, and must have been an enormous undertaking before the internet became available.

Unfortunately, I have found enough mistakes in this book to make me question its usefulness. My 2nd great-grandmother is listed as Judith Carhart, although every other record in existence lists her as Julia (see previous post). Two of Julia’s sons-in-law are misnamed as well—Frederick D. Palin, instead of Blinn, and John Shepherdson instead of Stephenson. (Imagine the brick walls those mistakes could throw up for a researcher)! The book gives Solomon’s place of birth as Coeymans, Albany County, New York. However, the book also states that his father, Daniel Carhart, was born in 1746 at Rye, Westchester County, New York. It then says that Daniel and his wife, Elizabeth Bloomer, and family removed to Coeymans in 1793 (eleven years after Solomon’s birth). All of Solomon’s brothers, including three younger than Solomon, are listed as being born in Rye, so I think it is safe to assume that Solomon was born in Rye as well. So if one remains aware that Dusenbury’s book contains inaccuracies, it remains a valuable resource.

On March 16, 1804, Solomon married Catherine (Caty) Fires, who was born on April 4, 1784. She is sometimes listed as Catherine Fryer. I believe this is a typo (one that has led me to find what I believe is her real surname, which I’m painstakingly close to proving; there will eventually be a post concerning this lady). Solomon and Caty raised twelve children, six of each, between 1805 and 1827: Anna, Catherine, Sarah Marie, Hackaliah, Peter, Solomon, Jane Eliza, Levi, Julia, Margaret Louise, Leonard Arkell, and Fletcher.

The census records share little more information than the number of children they had and that Solomon was a farmer. Well, that  gave me a feeling for what his life might have been like—I grew up on a farm, the first few years without electricity and running water, so I know what a more rugged life-style is like. Plus, I endured long days of hard, dirty, sweaty, manual labor, all part of the job description. The census records also indicate that they owned no slaves (although one of Solomon’s great-grandfathers, Daniel Purdy, did), so we know who did the labor. And while we weren’t poor, we were far from wealthy– we had our “go to meetin’ clothes” always bought off-the-rack, and never fancy. So, yes, I was starting to get a feeling for what life may have been like for this particular set of great-great-great-grandparents!

And then… I found a reference to the existence of an oil painting of Solomon and Catherine! Hmmm… none of the farmers I knew ever had his portrait painted! (In trying to imagine such a thing, Grant Woods “American Gothic” came to mind). But this was before photography was common, and if it was important enough, maybe they scrimped and saved for years to have this done. Or… maybe they were “Gentlemen Farmers” and much more well-off financially than I had guessed. The reference to the painting gave the names of the owners, and the internet gave me their phone number. After repeated calls to this number, which got no response, I decided to set this aside as a future pursuit, although I knew it may have been a false rumor, or the owner’s might not ever agree to letting someone copy it.  Several years passed, and the internet flourished. I decided to Google the name Solomon Carhart, and low and behold, an Arthur Carhart had put pictures of Solomon’s and Catherine’s portraits on a site called http://www.findagrave.com! And I think “Gentleman Farmer” applies! I’m including Caty’s portrait as well, as I think her finery gives more evidence of this than does his.

                                                                                                                                                                     Solomon Carhart

500 49874480_126888809187

The US Federal Census for 1850 has Ann, 40, and Julia, 28, still living at home with their parents, as was Leonard, 24, with his occupation  listed as school teacher. Ten years later, Leonard is still living at home, along with his wife and 3 children, but he has become a butcher. A 20 year old man, Alexander Smith, is living with the family, and is listed as a school teacher. Apparently education was important to this family.

Solomon died August 30, 1861, aged 79 years.

  Catherine Fires Carhart


52 Ancestors: #8 Hamilton Carhart (Will Someone at the Oscars be wearing Carhartt?)

Hamilton Brakeman Carhartt

carbook2 Hamilton-Carhartt-portrait

Hamilton Brakeman Carhartt

My last post dealt with my 2nd great grandmother, Julia Carhart. With this post, I’m going out on a limb. Same family tree– in fact, the same branch– just a little further out; this one is about Julia’s second cousin, once removed—Hamilton Brakeman Carhartt.

Hamilton was tired of being a peddler, driving a mule-pulled wagon around southern Michigan. He was born in in Macedon Locks, New York, on August 27, 1855, but he grew up in Jackson, Michigan, where he married Annette Welling on December 21, 1881. They had three children: Hamilton Jr., Wylie, and Margaret.

Hamilton knew that travelling was in important part of the business he had started with his father-in-law, Stephen Welling, in 1882 in Grand Rapids. Two years later Welling & Carhartt were operating as a men’s furnishing wholesale outlet in Detroit, and obviously someone had to travel to show their merchandise. He kept those wagon wheels turning, but the wheels were turning in his head, too; there’s a lot of time for thinking when you’re on the road. He’d noticed that the one item he sold more than any other was the bib-overall. He knew his wife could sew, and wondered if they could start their own bib-overall business.

The shed in their backyard became Annette’s workplace, and she could turn out a fine product… but they weren’t selling, at least not enough to keep their business going. One day Hamilton was sharing his worries with a friend who was a railroad engineer, wondering aloud why these overalls weren’t selling. His friend took him to the rail yard and showed him how a typical day would go. He’d need a pocket here for this wrench, a loop here to hang a hammer, another pocket here for this and another pocket there for that; in short,  there weren’t enough pockets and loops for hanging tools. He was sure overalls custom-made for railroaders would sell. And sell they did!

Hamilton Carhartt & Company came into being in 1889, with just four sewing machines and five people on the payroll. His products were made with cotton duck and denim—the same materials ship sails were made of. They used heavy material and reinforced stress points with rivets and heavy stitching, and they expanded to produce coveralls, coats, shirts and workpants as well.imagesPVNODIYO

Hamilton became known to railroad personnel in small towns all around Michigan, and as his notoriety for quality products grew, so did his company. And then the Depression hit. While he never went out of business, he was forced to cut back. But he and his son worked at opening a branch in Irvine, Kentucky. The administrative offices are still there today, overseeing seventeen plants and three mills, including those in Canada and Europe.

Carhartt’s advertisements frequently showed their pride in their progressive labor practices. These included their fully-unionized workforce, profit sharing for these workers, the institution of an eight hour workday, and the recruitment of women to work in their factories.

Hamilton Carhartt and his wife Annette sustained fatal injuries in an automobile accident on May 10, 1937. Their remains were interred at Woodmere Cemetery in southwest Detroit.

His company is still producing the same quality merchandise, and is still in the capable hands of his descendants.

(It’s strange that once you’re famous, people start attributing things to you that aren’t true. If you search the internet, you’ll find that Hamilton wanted to set himself apart from other businesses, and to do so he added the second “t” to the end of the Carhart name. Not true, as his father, Dr.George Washington Carhartt, already spelled it with the double “t”).

carhartt ad

52 Ancestors: #7 (14 Years per Husband), Julia Carhart Martin Durfey

Julia Carhart Martin Durfey

Julia Carhart Martin (1865)


Julia Carhart Martin Durfey (1881)

Julia had put the supper potatoes on to boil while George was getting into his heavy winter clothes to go out to feed the livestock. The potatoes were almost done, and she wondered why George hadn’t come in. There wasn’t that much for him to do out there, now that all the kids were gone and they didn’t need that many chickens and cows to keep them alive; they were no longer spring chickens themselves– she was 60 and he was 67. She thought she’d better go check on him, so she took the potatoes off the stove, pulled on her boots and her heavy winter coat, and tied a scarf over her head— January 25th is never warm in Claremont, Minnesota.
She hung the lantern on the gatepost while she opened the gate, closed it behind her, and held the lantern in one hand, holding her other arm out for balance– she’d always hated the cattle pen in the winter, with all the frozen clumps of dirt and cow manure—so easy to trip and fall. As she neared the stable, she saw George lying on the ground, unmoving, dead. He had died fast; it looked like a heart attack.
Julia wondered why a man couldn’t seem to live beyond 14 years after marrying her. She’d married George Martin January 1, 1851, and he had died in 1865. Two years later, she’d married George Durfey, and now he was gone, in 1881.
Julia was born in Coeymans, a little Dutch village on the Hudson River, in New York State, on June 16, 1821. She lived on a farm with her parents, Solomon and Caty (Fires) Carhart, and eleven brothers and sisters. She was 31 years old—considered by many to already be an “old maid–” when she married young George Martin, who lived nearby on the Martin Hill Road, just west of Coeymans. It seems strange that Julia married so late, and then to a man more than six years younger than she was. It may have been due to Julia having a cleft lip (this is speculation by a cousin who knew Julia’s favorite grandson, who had a cleft lip. If you study the photos, one wing of her nose seems to be higher than the other, often the case in cleft lips). I believe George would have overlooked any such imperfection, for letters written to his younger brother are filled with admonitions to follow Christ’s ways, and to appreciate the things they have been blessed with. He also decries the state of the people in the area they’re living, having never lived in a place where God’s people had gotten so “cold.” (Although maybe I’m misinterpreting that, for in the same letter he talks of the temperature dropping to minus 50 in St. Paul).
George and Julia lived in New York City for several years, where their three daughters were born: Maria Louise Martin, February 3, 1853; Ada C. Martin, September 26, 1855; Helen Carhart Martin, August 1, 1857 (my great-grandmother—see post #5 on this blog).
In 1857, with Helen a mere babe in arms, the family moved to Ellington Township of Dodge County, in southern Minnesota. Julia had joined the Baptist church back in New York, and George had “handed in her letter to the then organizing Wasioja Baptist church, of which she thus became a charter member.” A lot of their time was devoted to church activities, as well as farming, not to mention George’s other job. He had taken over the job of Postmaster and mail carrier from Julia’s sister, Margaret Van Buren, which he held until his death, in June of 1865.
This left Helen with three daughters and a farm to run. They raised a few animals, pigs and chickens, mostly, and leased out the land to other farmers. She also brought in money by taking over George’s postal job. I shudder to think of those bone-chilling Minnesota mornings when this delicate-looking widow had to hitch up the horse and buggy, bundle the girls in their warmest clothes–, probably throwing the mail sack onto their laps as they crowded into a two-person buggy– and drop them off at her sister’s place before delivering the mail.
George Durfey and his family lived just down the road from Julia and the girls, and probably knew them from church. His wife Polly had died a few years earlier, as had a daughter and a son, leaving him with two sons at home. The older, John, was 21 at the time, and may have been running the farm, as George was listed in the 1865 MN census as “a soldier in active service.”
George Durfey and Julia married August 12, 1867, and soon after they moved to Claremont St. in Claremont, MN, where they were living when this story opened.
In 1886, Julia was stricken with paralysis, from which she never recovered, and for the last two years was confined to her bed, dying October 12, 1895, aged 74 years. Her funeral was held in the local church, with a sermon being preached from I Corinthians xv, 57: “But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” She was buried in the Concord Cemetery in Old Concord, MN.


John and Helen Stephenson’s familySONY DSC


These are my “catch-up” blogs, since I started late in January; this will now put me in line with everyone else who started their 52 Ancestors challenge at the beginning of the year. If you’ve read my posts 5 and 6, you’re familiar with the family in this portrait.

The Stephenson Portrait, taken about 1907.
Back, l. to r.:
James Blaine, Luella Julia, Smith Carhart, Rosella Martin, George Terry.
Front, l. to r.:
Sara Ann, John Stephenson, Jr. (father), Mary Louise, Helen Carhart Martin Stephenson (mother), Clarence Lester.

Clarence Lester Stephenson is my maternal grandfather. If you enlarged the photo, you would notice that he has a slight cleft chin (as does his sister, Sara). This seems to be the only physical trait I inherited from him. But I inherited another physical trait through him, from his father– prematurely grey hair. My great-grandpa John would have been about 59 in this photo, and it appears that his hair and beard have turned completely white. One of his sisters had snow-white hair before she was 51.

As stated in my previous post, John and Helen lived in an abandoned sod claim shack on their homestead near Centerville, South Dakota, until they could build a wood-frame claim shack. The homestead papers describe the house as 14 X 18 feet, 1 1/2 stories high. I don’t know when they built the large house shown above, big enough for a family of ten.