On the western waters….

I have not given up, I have not lost hope, I am not convinced that we have found and settled on where my 5th Great Grandfather Gov. Richard Caswell is indeed buried. There. I said it. I am at it again.

For several years there have been many people involved in questioning and searching for where North Carolina’s first Governor is buried; archaeologists, East Carolina University students & professors, a team from the Smithsonian, state & local historians, family members, genealogists and curiosity seekers, all have come together in several attempts at finding out where Gov. Caswell is buried, yet none have solved the mystery, even the last attempt at his grave excavation in 2009 could neither prove nor disprove the theory he is buried in Kinston at the Caswell family cemetery.

In the next couple of posts I am going to give a short description of the death and burial and the history of the search for the resting place of Governor Richard Caswell. Then I shall track my investigation as I go forward with my hunch that he is indeed buried in the western part of North Carolina, which may now be actually be in Tennessee.

Why do I seek this information? It is a mystery that I cannot let go, there are questions I still have and above all else if found I want to honor his resting place. Some say that the loss of his burial location is a loss for the citizens of North Carolina and history, that as a Founding Father for North Carolina, he deserves better in memory. If North Carolina had not been the poorest of the 13 colonies, he would have been as well known as Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and John Adams, all contemporaries and friends of his. Out of sight is not out of mind for me.

So to begin,

  • I will take a closer look at the letters I have gathered where Richard speaks of his time in this area, as well as his sons,
  • I will look at other letters, documents and records of his friends actions in the area from just prior to his death to a few years after,
  • Chart the boundaries from land sales on a map, laying out areas to search for further records of any actual habitation,
  • I will search for more of his son Winston’s documents & writings for his movements in the 10 years after his father’s death until his own, specifically the months proceeding and after his fathers death to see if I can find him recorded in that area.

Stay tuned for more on this journey.

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Fathers Wisdom & Wishes, a letter to his son

In late 1775, William Caswell, oldest son of NC Gov Richard Caswell, is serving in the 2nd Continental Regiment of North Carolina assisting the Virginians in driving back Lord Dunmore’s attack around Norfolk, VA, known as the Battle of Great Bridge. The valuable aid given by the North Carolinian’s was such that the Virginia House of Burgesses praised the victory and announced the high regard for the brave men of both Virginia and North Carolina.

EasternVirginia 1775

William wrote to his father often, they corresponded much through the war and before that when he served his father as his confident and secretary. His father often would write to him of his pride for the service William provided his country but also of his love for his son and duty to country.

In this letter dated 8 Feb 1776, he once again will instruct and encourage his son in his service.

Dobbs, Newington, 8th February, 1776.

My Dear Son:

Your letter of the 24th of January, I this moment received and rejoice to hear of yours and Mr. Herritage’s health, tho’ Lowly. Men in your Situation are often so & when you Consider the great Cause you are engaged in, You will, I flatter myself, think your Sufferings from those small Vermin not worth Notice. However, if it is in my power to send you Shirts I will most Chearfully do it or any thing else within the Compass of my power. I did not doubt but you had Carried all the Clothes you had at Newbern with you.” 

“I hope my Dear Child, the Virtuous cause you are engaged in and the hope you have of giving the little Assistance in your power to the relief of your Country, and as far as your power extends, will Stimulate you to put up with Hardships, Fatigues & inconveniences which others may shudder at, to ward off that slavery which is Attempted to put the present, as well as the future, generation under in this once happy Land.

Don’t mistake me when I say the dissatisfaction of others ought not to be a rule for you, nor think that I would wish you to be one Moment in a Service your own Conscience does Not tell you it is your duty to Attend and even Sacrifice that life which I have been an instrument in the Hands of your Maker of giving you. You know I would not wish you to remain a day longer from me or those of your Family to whom you are very dear if I did not think your own, mine & Our Country’s Honor & Welfare required it.

Let Virtue, Honor & Prudence conduct you. If I never have the Pleasure of Seeing you again in this World, my prayers shall be daily made to the Almighty disposer of all things to Bless you in the next. 

With hopes of seeing you soon, I Conclude,
Your ever affectionate Father,

Caswell signature

 

 

 

In the letter to his father, William mentions that most of the army were lacking in clothing, food and pay. William himself answered the call and left with whatever he had on himself at the time. He did not even have his horse. There seems to be several officers and men that are writing letters of dissent, but he is not one of them. Instead he is telling his father of the battle and the following hardships he is suffering and seeing and I am sure he is hoping for his father’s continued support and words of wisdom to get him through.

William took his duty seriously, entering into the Continental Army as an Ensign of the 2nd Regiment of NC Line, from the New Bern district. He was immediately dispatched to serve with General Washington’s forces in the north. Both he and his Uncle, Colonel John Herritage, were with General Washington during the winter at Valley Forge.  William was wounded at the Battle of Brandywine and reported to have “served well with valor” and was soon promoted to Lieutenant and then promoted once again to Captain of the 5th NC Continental Regiment in April 1776.

In 1778 he returned home to Kinston, NC with failing health, some thought to be from his injuries earlier at the Battle of Brandywine and deprivation in the following years. However, as his health regained, duty called him once again to engage in the war, this time as Brigadier General and fought against Cornwallis’s army as it marched from Wilmington to Guildford Courthouse. William was there at Yorktown when Cornwallis surrendered.

Having served his country and his father well, it is sad indeed that William Caswell died on 6th January 1785, age 30, leaving a young wife and son Richard William Caswell. Soon after his wife would also die and the young child would be taken in by Gov. Caswell and his wife Sarah to be raised along with his other children.

Had he lived, I have no doubt he would have continued to serve his country in the best way possible and with the same determination and passion his father taught him with the lessons learned at his side, serving him and other Founding Men.

When I read these letters from my 4th-Great Uncle and my 5th-Great Grandfather, I am warmed at the obvious affection between the two but also the words of wisdom that Richard expresses in order to bolster his son’s morale in what he knows to be more than just a hardship but one of survival.

Note: I also love that Richard Caswell often wrote in his letters that he would “cheerfully” obtain or do whatever he was compelled to do for the support, safety and comfort of his men or the independence and future of his country.

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When facts are few, thoughts are wild and assumptions abound…

In the realm of genealogy if there is no source noted it should not be considered fact until proven. Simple. One would think. 

In the realm of family and local historians, the stories we hear and the writings we come across can seem factual, if not we think at least nuggets of truth may exists in these. These nuggets, or clues, can help us in our research. But all too often what is stated in writing or verbally in stories handed down, after generations, can seem to become facts/truths and that is where continued research and new discoveries can become points to some that are at the least disappointing or as objectionable, seem argumentative or down right hostile words despite the true intentions.

Take the case of a historical home in Kinston, Lenoir, North Carolina, “Harmony Hall”. The name itself given to it by a local historian and was never referred to by this name in it’s time period under discussion.

State researchers recently told the board that they would lose the historical marker as the facts stated were not proven. (The post would remain and if they want to have a new marker installed they would help to word it, though of course not pay for it or the installation.) I met with Mike Hill at the NC State Archives yesterday to learn more about it.

The website http://harmonyhallkinston.com/ states.

Harmony Hall is the only house of historical significance left standing in Kinston, North Carolina.

The site was built in 1772 by Jesse Cobb and his wife, Elizabeth Heritage Cobb, and has served as a residence to prominent historical figures of Lenoir County.

Harmony Hall housed the offices of James Glasgow, Secretary of State, until 1781. The State Board of War and other official meetings were held there at this time.

During the Revolutionary period, it was owned by Richard Caswell, First Governor of North Carolina after Independence was gained from Great Britain.

The house was also the site of a Civil War Hospital, Church Annex, Public Library, and Women’s Club building.

The house was remodeled around 1790, again in 1835 and the most recent restoration was completed in 1984.

The restored house features a large reception room, called the great room, at the center of the first floor with open fireplaces at each end. The great room is the actual size of the original dwelling built in 1772. This area was enlarged by the addition of wings and rooms in later years.

 

The problem with this is there is no conclusive evidence to link Governor Richard Caswell with either the lot or home. State instituted research going back at least as far as 1969 demonstrate that while the home was found to “have features dating from the mid-eighteenth century including some wide beaded weatherboarding applied with rose headed nails, door casings, moldings, raised-panel doors, and a Georgian secondary mantel on the second floor” proving an 18th-century connection, there is no evidence of original ownership given. A respected local genealogist, extremely well qualified to do so, very recently researched the claim as well and came across no documentation of Richard Caswell’s connection to either lot or building, My own 20+ years of research has shown nothing concerning this lot either, though I admit to not having this on my radar to research.

Dendrochronology could indeed give us a better time period of the original part of the houses age, however this still would not tell us as fact who owned the lot or who built the dwelling prior to 1790. Gov Caswell of course died in Nov 1789. Lenoir county is what is referred to as a “burned county”, having suffered two significant court house fires in the later 19th-century destroying many documents that could have solved this and many other questions. 

It has been said that one block over the Governor had a home at 111 E Bright Street, now an empty lot with the brick foundation showing, and behind that on 200 E. Shine street his son, Dallam, had a home that is also now gone. Richard Caswell owned quite a bit of land in the area so it is conceivable that he could have owned the lot on E King Street (Harmony Hall), but no supporting documentation has been found as of this date. Continued research on these other two lots is undergoing.

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Though the change in understanding the Peebles House, as it more accurately should be called, has changed how the state thinks it should be historically marked, this does not call into question that this building is still the oldest surviving building in the city and should have a marker noting this and it’s history of being used during the War Between the States. 

Too often we tend to take local history as truth unquestioned and that can lead to generations of misunderstandings and take historians, genealogists and researchers down the wrong path of wasted time, energy and disappointment. Since I myself have had to own up to past tales that were not in fact proven and changed my thoughts and research, I know this is hard and hope that those who support (and I am one) the history of Harmony Hall/Peebles House can still celebrate it’s history.

 

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Christmas Newsletters and family historians

We all have received them and many of us write them, the newsy letters to family and friends where we give or receive detailed information on Aunt Mary’s hip surgery, little Susie’s tap dance lessons,  Ashley’s senior trip to France, the car that broke down during the family vacation, etc, etc.

We do these letters or emails, to keep in touch, to brag about our accomplishments, to let others know how we are doing, and to give a snippet of our lives to those we generally do not see through out the year but want to keep in touch with.

These letters can be a treasure of family information. If it has been a tradition in your family to send these out, I hope you are keeping one for yourself each year, place them in binder by year and watch your family stories grow through the years. Make a habit of pulling out the binder each Christmas season and reread some of the older letters and maybe relive some great memories or remind yourself how lucky you are. As the children grow the letters can be fun for the grandchildren to hear!

If you are a recipient of these letters, do the same thing for family newsletters. Keep them in a binder and reminisce, but these will also be great for yourself and future generations of genealogists.

The information and stories these newsletters generally give are brilliant. Births, marriages, anniversaries, deaths & funerals, traditions, stories, moves, occupations, schools, societies, and important names, dates, locations, etc.

I must also say it was recommended to me to scan the letters for safe keeping, but I have to admit to loving the touch of the real thing, the hand written ones are even better. But scan if you must, just as long as you keep these snippets of life where the future can also share in the details of our lives.

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Memories, how do we keep these?

There are so many things I can remember clearly, even things that happened many, many years ago and then there are things that happened just a few months ago I have trouble recalling. It is not just age effecting this, but my life is so busy and overwhelmed at times that I do not pay full attention to the moments I am in, as I am always thinking behind, ahead or just trying to catch up.

So, how do we keep our memories strong, recall things of importance or store those moments in life that make us smile, laugh, proud or even sad? How do we stop losing the stories of our ancestors? Reminiscence reviewing!

If teens and young adults who have become sudden sensations in Hollywood or the music industry can write a memoir, why shouldn’t you? Think of it as a peek inside a diary, a snippet of “what life is all about” or the appeal of reporting history as it happens, first person, so that future generations will learn from more than just misguided and skewed history books, but from those who actually lived it.

Capture your life in words, you do not have to be a professional to write. Just sit down at your desk, favorite chair or even in bed, wherever you are most comfortable, get your computer, typewriter, tablet, Ipad, recorder or even a legal pad, and start writing. There is even a computer program that you can dictate to and all the typing is done without you pecking away! ( like Dragon Naturally Speaking) Start with today, yesterday, last month or last year. Just start talking about what comes to your mind.

Some ideas to consider,
o Is there a favorite family member you want to remember, tell a story about?
o What about your own parents or grandparents telling you a story about an ancestor?
o What was your own childhood like, good or bad, these are things to recall and record
o Is there any military service stories, who served when, where and what did they do?
o What were your school years like? Do you remember things like what the favorite lunch was, teacher, and subjects? What were the fashions? Who was popular? Were there any scandals?
o Your dating days?
o Your engagement & wedding?
o The birth of children or nieces & nephews?
o Your friends, where do you spend your time, doing what?
o What is the social scene, in your youth, middle age, as you age?
o What historically significant events have you witnessed or taken part in? How did you feel, did it cause you to do something, change your life, etc?
o Traveling, where have you gone? What did you do? Where did you stay, eat, visit, etc?
o What are your interests and how did you get started?
o What occupations have you had, and what brought you to them? What do you wish you had done instead, why?
o What are your religious beliefs, where do you worship? What is your community like, what traditions do they bring to your life?
o Describe yourself as a child, youth, teen, young adult, middle age or whatever stage you are in.
o What are your hopes for your own future and that of your family or friends?
o Is there some great meaning to life or lesson you have learned you want to pass down?

Get the children involved as well. Have them write as soon as they are able to and before that you can record things for them. Even if it is just a paragraph a week or month. Get them in the habit. Buy them a nice journal to use or encourage them to keep an online diary or even a blog. Let them know that they matter, their stories matter.

We all have such unique lives that create wonderful stories; they should be remembered and retold, or at least recalled and recorded, for future generations to learn about your history, your heritage and your story and in your own words.

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My Mayflower Family ancestors…..what does their story mean to me?

When I began in earnest to research my family history, I mainly worked on my father’s line, closer to home as they were in North Carolina, and I had an elderly Aunt and some cousins who helped me. My father had been told all kinds of stories growing up. And I was consumed with learning more about my 5th Great Grandfather, Gov Richard Caswell. I was (and still am) very interested in our revolutionary history.

My mother’s family was much different.  My great grandmother raised my mother and I had heard stories about her parents and her late husbands family who were from Scotland, as much as she knew, and so I had a sketch of what that line looked like and was able to work on it.

I remember when I was young, maybe in high school, my mother told me that we were somehow related to John Alden & Priscilla Mullins of the Mayflower, but she was unsure just how. It was through her Grandmother McMeekin. Thinking this was pretty cool, I filed it away and did not think about it again for many, many years.

When you are not raised close, either in proximity or with bonds of family, there are no histories to hear, no heritage to learn, no story to tell. My grandfather, Howard Grant McMeekin Jr, was not a nice man. He was not evil, just not a stand-up kind of person. He did not raise his children, left that to the mothers he abandoned or their families. His own mother was by all accounts, not a friendly or warm woman. Not at least to her children or her grandchildren. Edna Leighton Blaisdell was born in 1883 in Illinois. Her father, James M Blaisdell and mother Helen Amanda Sampson were from New Hampshire, having moved to IL after the Civil War. I know very little personal information on these families, sad to say, other than what records can tell me. There is no family to tell me more about the people themselves.

Helen can be seen on the far left, in dark clothing. Edna is the tall girl in the middle.

Through James & Helen, I have connections to the Blaisdell, Hanson, Sampson/Samson, Leighton, Emerson, Baker, Wentworth & Noyes families of New England. It is through these lines that I am the great-granddaughter of John Alden, Priscilla Mullins, Myles Standish, William Bradford and William Brewster (and probably one or two more passengers).

In the mid 1990’s I found an address for the Blaisdell Family Association after I discovered a book my mother had that had belonged to Edna. It is a hardback book with Edna’s name imprinted on the cover. The Blaisdell Family Papers Volume 1 1935-1941. This had my my grandmother, Janet Ellen Frew’s, marriage to Howard Grant McMeekin Jr and then listed was my Uncle and mother’s births. Along with some other family members notes. Through ancestry.com I was able to find more information on my line going back from Edna. I still had no personal stories though, and that has saddened me.

Then Google happens, and as my daughter will tell you, “the Google knows everything”. Google search had just started to be known and I used it to find more information on these families and came across a recent contact information for the Blaisdell Family Association. Their contact was very glad to hear from me, and to get the update on this line for her files. She in turn sent me a a file about 2″ thick of printouts for my family going back to, yes the Mayflower and beyond to England. There were sources and notes galore!

I was in heaven reading this package. I found that I am the 9th great granddaughter of Susanna North Martin, an elderly woman tried, convicted and hung as a witch (see previous post on her), that I am also the 9th great granddaughter of Myles Standish, John Alden & Priscilla Mullins, William Bradford & William Brewster.  I also found a connection to Nathaniel Currier of the Currier & Ives publishing firm that is beloved even today.

Reading this stack of family history made me finally feel a connection to my mother’s family, for me to know that I am here in part because these courageous souls dared to follow their hearts, their dreams, their desires and needs and not to follow what others would tell them to do or believe. They came to an unknown place with very little and yet were able to carve out a space to live, socialize, grow and assimilated into a new world. They did not all get along, they had different opinions and even ideas of what the new world should or could be, but maybe it is their tenacity, resourcefulness and endurance that is the real legacy worthy of story telling for my future generations.

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Genetic Ethnicity

Several weeks ago, I sent in a sample for DNA testing, no not for paternity, but for my genetic ethnicity. I was unsure what to expect when the results came in. Would my many years of research be proven  or would something throw a wrench into my life?

I only half-jokingly asked my father, “Dad, now is the time to tell me if I am adopted or if there is something else in our family that I need to know.” He laughed and said no and nothing that he was aware of. So I spit into the tube, closed the top and sent it off.

Just a couple of weeks later and I have my results.  Was my research confirmed? Did I find anything new? Yes to both.

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  • British Isles                         67% (thought it would have been higher)
  • Eastern European              15% (what?!?!)
  • Central European                10% (Dad said he thought there was a French connection)
  • Unknown                               8% (as more people do this test, these regions become clearer)

So, what does this tell me? I need to find out how close the relation has to be to have a 15% result, how many generations back could that go? I called my father and told him the results and he says, “Well Grandma Sallie once told me that she heard her grandfather say that his grandfather said that had he been born in the next farm over, he would have been Polish.” Really Dad, you are just now telling me this?? So, who was this #great grandparent that could have been Polish or other EE group?

Not having much experience with the Eastern European areas, I thought where should I be looking at and what should I be looking for? According to ancestry.com modern day countries would be,

Poland, Greece, Macedonia, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Romania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Belarus, Moldova, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Belgarus, Kosovo

Since my mother’s line is the strongly known and documented from England, Scotland and Ireland with a Frenchman way back in the 17th-century, and given what my father just told me about his grandmother’s comment, I decided to look at his line first for possibilities. This is where I have the most unanswered questions and blank lines.

I have no ancestry records for these great grandparents from North Carolina, could one of these couples hold the key to the Eastern European ancestry?

  • 3rd Great Grandfather, JOSEPH BURGESS, d. aft 1830. No wife found, two known sons, John T (my 2nd g-grandfather) and William.
  • 3rd Great Grandfather, SILAS HEATH, 1793-? Wife Nancy. Known children, Amanda, John William, Nancy, Thomas Arendell (my 2nd g-grandfather) and Sally
  • 3rd Great Grandfather, JOSHUA ROUSE, 1816-1887 and his first wife Susan Caswell. Known children, Sarah E, Susan M, Marcellus Wooten (my 2nd g-grandfather) and William Henry.
  • 4th Great Grandparents, WRIGHT HUNTER and Wife NANCY DAVIS. Known children Nicholas, Wright William (my 3rd g-grandfather), Mary and William Jackson.
  • 4th Great Grandfather, JESSE COOPER, 1776-1859. No wife found. Two known daughters, Lucinda (my 3rd g-grandmother) and her sister Caroline.
  • 4th Great Grandmother, CATHERINE BOND, North Carolina.  Husband Dallam Caswell. No proof of her maiden name found. Eleven known children including Susan M Caswell (my 3rd g-grandmother)
  • 5th Great Grandparents, NATHANIEL BATTS, abt 1750-1840 and his wife, ELIZABETH DIXON. Known child, Lewis Jasper Batts (my 4th g-grandfather)

Nothing is jumping out at me when I look at this list of names, however surname migration research will help and visiting the NC archives will be another step. Also, having my father participate in the DNA genetic ethnicity testing will help, for his genetic make-up will tell me if indeed it is his line that the EE make-up comes from.

Knowing my genetic ethnicity will hopefully lead me in new research directions and just maybe, find some new family leaves. Yes, the fire is lit once more on my North Carolina heritage and with renewed determination, I am hopeful for rich discoveries in the future, dare I hope the near future.

Stay tuned. I will be documenting my search for my Eastern European ancestry as I find it fascinating that after 25 years of researching, I can still learn plenty of new and interesting facts about my own family.

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