Sunday, October 25, 2015


"I, James Michael, do hereby report in conformity to the acts of Congress relative to Naturalization that I was born in the Parish of Soumagne on the river Schelde in the Kingdom of Holland, subject to the Dominion of the Crown of Holland, and that I migrated on the thirteenth day of April A. D. one thousand eight hundred and eighteen directly from Flanders to Anapolis [sic] in the State of Maryland, United States of America which place I landed at on the twentieth day of August A. D. one thousand eight hundred and eighteen and that it is my intention to settle in the State of Missouri and that I am twenty-seven years old." 
Source: August 17, 1823, Court records, Perry County, Missouri

What little we know about James Michael's early life comes from this record. If his age here is correct, he was born in 1796. Later records show that he may have been born as early as 1793. "Michael" was the Americanized version of his name, which was probably "Michel" or "Michiel." Many variations of the spelling are found among the records of James and his descendants.

He is only one of a handful Belgians living in Missouri in the 1820s. His reason for migrating there at that time is a mystery. From the time James was a small child, Europe had been engaged in the Napoleonic Wars and Belgium was occupied by the armies of Napoleon in 1814. After the battle at Waterloo, in 1815, the country, which was predominantly Catholic, was placed under the rule of the King of Holland, a Protestant. Dutch replaced French as the national language. Belgian missionaries, Father Nerinkx and Father de la Croix had been in Missouri, and stories of them may have traveled back to Belgium. Perhaps this was what inspired the young James to board a ship in April for the grueling four-month voyage across the Atlantic to America. And grueling it was, as in this account of the difficulties of transatlantic travel by an Irish immigrant to Canada in 1817. It was just one year before James Michael made his trip to America.

May 26th, 1817 [11 days at sea] -
"Being much afflicted with sickness these few days past, I have been unable to write, but thanks be to God, now feel better. I never witnessed such a scene before as the storm which we had on Friday night. About eleven o'clock, the captain being just gone to bed, it began; on which he immediately got on deck and ordered all the sails down, which being done, restrained the motion of the vessel; nothing could equal the awful change that took place-the vessel rolled from side to side, and overturned all the passengers' boxes, pans, kettles, and vessels of water, in such a manner as that no tongue can express, or mind conceive the state we were in-all, I may say, expected every moment to be swallowed in the great deep. My mind was seriously impressed on the occasion, but my whole soul was stayed on god. The captain had, by his own account, three dozen of plates broken, besides several bottles of porter. This storm continued partly till Sunday evening."
Source: Dublin to Quebec on the Mary and Bell, 1817. From Narrative of a Voyage from Dublin to Quebec, in North America, by James Wilson, 1822, CIHM #63247

It appears that after arriving in Annapolis, Maryland, in August of 1818, James headed straight for Missouri, which was still two years from statehood. He made his new home in the part of the Ste. Genevieve District that became Perry County in 1821. James quickly ingratiated himself into the community. He was married shortly after his arrival in Missouri to Susannah Layton and their first child was born in 1820. 

"James Michael(s) m. Susanna Layton, b. ca 1800, by 1820, dau. of John Layton and Monica French."   
Source: 1823 Parish Census of St. Mary's of the Barrens Congregation

Susannah's parents were John Layton and Monica French, who were originally from Maryland and had migrated to Kentucky with the group which have come to be known as the "Maryland Catholics." Susannah was born in Washington County, Kentucky, and moved to Missouri with her family about 1810. They settled on a Spanish land grant, most of which today is within the town of Perryville near the Seminary church. John Layton was a Justice of the Peace, and was involved laying out the county roads and the town of Perryville. He was selected by the Governor to represent Perry County in the State Legislature in 1836.

Unlike most other early settlers in this area, James Michael was not a farmer. In 1828 he is shown on the tax list with 50 acres, probably deeded to him by his father-in-law. In his homeland, the River Schelde in Belgium was known as a major shipping and trade route even in the early 19th century. In 1836, James received a grocer's license, and in 1841 he was licensed to operate an inn and tavern. In the 1850 census, he is listed as a "tavern keeper" living in a dwelling identified as a "hotel" in Cinque Hommes township. Although it is never mentioned, Susannah was probably very active in running the business as well, taking care of the housekeeping and seeing to the needs of travelers. 

James Michael was likely a most accommodating innkeeper, so much so that it got him into trouble a couple of times. In 1832, he was indicted for "suffering a card table to be used in his house." The indictment was dropped at the next session of the circuit court. In 1841 he got into trouble with the law again, this time for selling liquor without a license. Attempts to quash the indictment this time were unsuccessful, and he was tried by a jury of twelve "good and lawful men who being elected tried and duly sworn," found him guilty. After a couple of attempts to get the verdict overturned, presumably he paid the twenty dollar fine.

January 10, 1841 was a date the family would never forget, for that was the day that Mary Maddock Layton was murdered. Mary was the daughter of Richard Maddock and Elizabeth O'Connor, and had come to Missouri with her family from Ireland between 1815 and 1830. She became the sister-in-law of James and Susannah when she married Susannah's brother, James Layton, in 1832. Mary and James Layton had five children over the next eight years, and she was expecting her sixth when she was brutally killed by her husband. He attempted to escape justice, but was eventually captured, convicted and sentenced to be hanged.

"At that time [bef. 1845] most of the Perry County Circuit Court practice was done by non-resident attorneys. However, the James Layton murder case came up in 1841. Albert Jackson of Cape Girardeau County was then Circuit Attorney and Edward M. Holden was employed by Layton as the attorney for the defense. This was a savagely cruel wife murder case. Layton obtained two continuances, and finally a change of venue to St. Francois County. This so infuriated the masses of the people that a vast mob composed of Perry County men augmented by citizens of Ste. Genevieve and St. Francois Counties marched to Farmington, took possession of Layton and hanged him and riddled his body with bullets."  
The Centennial History of Perry County, Missouri, 1921.

This drama had lasted three years, and the Layton family were severely affected by it. Some of the Laytons left Missouri and moved to Texas, and it is speculated that Susannah's father, John Layton, at age 69, was one of them. The diarist, Archibald Little Hager, recorded in April 1846, "Theire was a sale at John Laytons" and "John Layton started to the Texes [sic]."

James and Susannah Michael remained in Perry County and raised a family of ten children. They were married until James' death in December 1857 at the age of 64. Susannah outlived him by fourteen years. 

In 1860, Susannah was living with two of her sons, William and Amatus Michaels. Her daughter, Theresa Michaels Doerr lived next door, which was fortunate. When her son-in-law, Philip Doerr, died suddenly in 1861, Susannah was there to help Theresa and her six grandchildren. Susannah Layton Michael died on the last day of the year 1870.

Copyright 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, October 24, 2015


Perry County Republican, Perryville, Missouri, 1903
           On the 17 of June, 1843, now a little less than 60 years ago, the first, and so far as I have been able to learn, the only lynching that St. Francois county ever indulged in occurred in Farmington. The tragic occurrence is only remembered, not only by the writer, but by many of the older residents of the county still living. The event that led an outraged public to take the execution of the law into their own hands on this occasion may be briefly stated as follows--
          On the night of the 10th of January, 1841, James Layton, a dissolute, worthless character, living in Perry county, came home drunk and drove his wife and little son out into the winter night and storm. Mrs. Layton, who was Layton's second wife, was at the time, about to become a mother, and her little stepson attempted to make their way through the darkness to a neighbors. But she was persued by the drunk-maddened demon, who overtook her and the child as they were crouching over and trying to warm themselves by the embers, where some laborers had been burning brush in a clearing during the day.
          Seizing one of the green sticks that had been burned to a sharp point, at the first blow he struck down his helpless and unresisting victim and continued to beat her until life was extinct.   Then, with brutality from which an ordinary savage would have turned from in horror, he thrust the pointed club through her body and thus literally pinned to the earth his wife and unborn child.
          Layton at once fled, leaving his little boy, who had been a witness of the whole horrible affair, alone with his dead stepmother. The child made his way to a neighbor's house and related the tragic story. 
          The next mourning [sic] the neighbors flocked to the scene of the tragedy and were horrified by what they saw. Though at that time the telegraph was unknown and the newspapers were few and far between, the news spread quickly over Perry and all the adjoining counties. 
          It was, nevertheless, nearly a year before Layton was arrested. He was found in hiding in Wayne county and brought back to Perry where he was put on trial, charged with murder in the first degree. 
          His own son, the little 9-year-old boy, who fled with his mother on the fatal night was the only witness put on the stand. But so clear and convincing was his story that no cross-questioning of the lawyers could confuse or shake it, and upon the conclusion of the trial the jury was scarcely 10 minutes in bringing a unanimous verdict of guilty. 
          The interest in the case instead of dying out, had increased, and now that sentence had been passed on the wretch the whole country breathed easier in the belief that justice at last was about to be meted out to the wife murderer. 
          But on an appeal which Layton's lawyer took to the supreme court the judgment of the trial court was set aside and the case remanded for a new trial. Then followed another tedious delay, during which the case was brought on a change of venue to St. Francois county. 
          At the May term of court, 1843, the case came up for trial the second time, and as before Layton's little son was the only witness called, but on his testimony the father was again convicted and sentenced to death on the 17th of June following. 
          Owing to the peculiarly atrocious features of the murder and the long delay that had already followed its perpetration, the deepest interest was felt in the approaching execution.   By 10 o'clock on the morning of the 17th, fully 3,000 people, many of whom had come 20 or 30 miles, were assembled in and about the public square in the then little village of Farmington, all eager to witness the execution. 
          The jail in which the prisoner was confined was a two-story log structure, the first story being built with triple walls.   Access to this "dungeon," as it was called, could only be had by a flight of stairs on the outside to the second story, from which the entrance was made by a trapdoor near the middle of the floor. Through this the jailer descended by means of a movable ladder, which was drawn up after being used, and the heavy trap-door shut and securely locked.   
[Old jail at Farmington -- Click to see a larger view]
          Around this dingy little building the people crowded, each morbidly eager to see the culprit when he should be brought to his death. At a few minutes after 11 o'clock the sheriff with considerable effort crowded his way through the dense mass of humanity to the foot of the stairway that led to the jail. 
          As he ascended the stairs it was observed that he held a paper in his hand and it was taken for granted that this was the death warrant and as soon as it was read to the prisoner he would be brought out and the execution would at once take place. 
          On reaching the top of the stair, however he paused, turned toward the crowd and waved the paper above his head to attract attention. Amid almost breathless silence he announced to the crowd that the paper he held in his hand, and which he had but a few minutes before received from the governor, contained an order for a stay of execution for 30 days. 
          The effect of this announcement was keen disappointment and was quickly succeeded by a feeling of deep indignation, and as the honest farmers recalled the mutilated form of that young wife and her unborn babe the appeal to their manhood was too strong to be surpressed, and what at first was only murmur of dissatisfaction in a few minutes swelled into a roar of indignation that would be satisfied with nothing short of life. 
          No one knew how or by what process the determination was reached, but in a few minutes it was universally understood that the jail was to be forced and the prisoner handed without further delay. A few of the more conservative citizens pleaded with the mob to allow the law to take its course, and in deference to this suggestion a vote was ordered and all in favor of hanging were requested to take one side of the square while those opposed were to take the other. 
          It was found that an overwhelming majority were in favor of hanging. In another minute a rush was made for the jail, and with heavy iron bars and sledge hammers the door was soon beaten down. The trapdoor to the "dungeon" was next pried up and half a dozen of the lynchers descended, and having tied the prisoner's hands behind him and placed a rope around his neck they carried the trembling wretch bodily up the ladder to the second floor and out on the platform at the head of the stairs. 
          An open buggy, from which the horse had been unhitched, was backed up to the foot of the stairs, and in this the victim of the mob's vengeance was placed and willing hands took hold of the shafts and rapidly drew the vehicle under the rude gallows tree improvised for the occasion. At this juncture the culprit was given opportunity to speak but on his declining to avail himself of it the rope was thrown over the beam and secured and the buggy was quickly drawn from under. The body swung back and forth for several minutes and then was still. 
          The brutal murder of Mary Layton was avenged.  The crowd quickly dispersed, the body was cut down and buried, and during the 70 years that have elapsed since then St. Francois county has not felt again called upon to usurp the prerogative of the constituted authority, and it is safe to say that but for law's delay this lynching would not have been charged to her account.

            Copyright 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, October 23, 2015


Incident of a Breach of Promise Suit at Bakersfield

Bakersfield, Cal., Oct. 14. -- Mrs. Murphy, mother of Louise E. Murphy, who on Friday last filed a breach of promise suit for $20,000 damages against George A. Rankin, a well-known resident of this county, and a prominent dairyman, today had an encounter with the dairyman in which fists and cuspidors were freely used.

As Mrs. Murphy and her daughter were going up the stairs inside the courthouse, Mrs. Murphy saw Rankin at the foot of the stairs. She immediately ran down and, grabbing Rankin by the lapels of his coat, slapped his face.

Rankin pushed her roughly from him, the irate mother falling to the floor. Quickly jumping to her feet, she picked up a cuspidor which was at her feet, and, raising it with all her strength at the surprised Rankin. The weapon struck him on the hand, and as he started to run down the stairs, another cuspidor just missed his head. 

No arrests were made., San Diego Union, page 4, column 3, Bakersfield, California, Oct 14, 1901. 
Copyright 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Alberta's Secret

          On Saturday, 8 April 1939, Earl Bagley of Macon County, Illinois, and Alberta Rankin of Perry County, Missouri, took out a marriage license. They were married the same day by Judge Homer J. Graff. There was a sense of urgency.

           Alberta was six months pregnant. 

          Just five days after their marriage, something terrible happened. Alberta went into labor. Her infant daughter was born three months early. 

          The baby did not survive.

          The death certificate names Alberta as the mother, but the father's name is shown as "unknown." The baby, Ann Marie, was buried in the Perry County Poor Farm Cemetery.

          The death record suggests that Earl was not the father of Ann Marie. Had he been, there would have been no reason to conceal the identity.  

          Earl appears to have been a good husband to Alberta. They soon left Missouri and moved to Decatur, Illinois, where Earl had grown up. They had no other children. Earl passed away in 1985. 

          Alberta died three years later, taking her secret to the grave.

Copyright 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, October 18, 2015


          Mrs. Bridget Dillon, aged 57, died last evening at 5 o'clock at the family home, 402 Hazle avenue. She was hurt, it was said, about ten years ago while alighting from a street car. Complications developing caused her death. She is survived by the following children: John, Thomas, Joseph, Daniel, Elizabeth and Mrs. Paul Haydt, and one brother, John Gilroy of Scranton.

          The funeral will take place on Saturday morning at 9:00 with a high mass of requium in St. Mary's Church at 9:30. Interment at St. Mary's Cemetery at Hanover.

The Wilkes-Barre Record
Thursday, 29 February 1912

Friday, October 9, 2015


My 3rd great-grandfather, Lewis Thorp was a pioneer. He was born on 19 March 1798, in North Haven, Connecticut. Lewis was just a year old in 1799 when his family left Connecticut and headed into pioneer country in the Western Reserve of Ohio. Later they lived in Buffalo, New York. 

His father died in 1813, massacred by the Indians. Without a father to provide for them, the five youngest children were placed under court appointed guardianship until age 21. All the children stayed up north, either in New York or in Michigan. 

All except Lewis. 

He went to Missouri, which had just become a state. In 1821, Lewis married Ann Preston. Ann was the daughter of Jonathan and Mary Preston from Virginia. They had been in Missouri since 1803. 

Ann Preston had five children with Lewis Thorpe. Then she died. 

Lewis did what any man with young children and no wife would do. He remarried. His second wife, Elvretta Phillips, was the widow of Joseph Sadler. She had two children. 

Lewis and Elvretta had six more children, and the second-eldest was my 2nd gg-grandfather, Joel Calvin Thorp.

Here's the twist: 

Because Ann Preston died, she is not my direct ancestor. 

But her younger sister, Sarah Preston is.

Sarah Preston was married to Joseph Massey. Joseph was from a French Canadian family. They had four children.

Their daughter, Mary Venicia Massey married William Kline, and they had a daughter, Ellen. 
Ellen married Samuel E. Rankin and eventually had twelve children. Their son, Sanford, was my great-grandfather.

And even though Ann Preston is not my ancestor, her children are my half-cousins. 

Copyright 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

What I Know About Jesse Rankin

I know a little bit about Jesse Rankin. 

Jesse was probably born in 1873, the tenth child of Samuel and Ellen Kline Rankin. This is consistent with his age as reported on the 1880 Census. 

Jesse's mother, Ellen, died when he was just nine years old. She had given birth to twelve children. She was just 38 years old. 

In 1894,when Jesse was about 20 years old, he was living in Mackinac County, Michigan. Many young men living in Missouri traveled to Michigan during the harvest season. Michigan is second only to California in terms of agricultural output. 

On 19 September 1894, Jesse and two other boys from Mackinac County, were recruited into the U. S. Army. Pvt. Jesse Rankin served his 1st enlistment of three years, and was discharged on 2 August 1897 from Fort Wayne, Michigan. 

About two weeks after leaving the service, Jesse joined the 14th Infantry, Co. H. He was transferred to Co. C of the 19th Infantry, and he participated in the Spanish American War in the Far East. He received his 2nd discharge from Sian [now Xian], China in 1900.

Pvt. Jesse enlisted a 3rd time. He was sent to the Phillipines and quickly became ill. He was in a U. S. Army hospital in Luzon. When he left the hospital, he was sent to the Benicia Arsenal, in Solano County, California. The arsenal still exists, though it's been decommissioned as a military facility.

Strangely, just before his 3rd enlistment was up, Pvt. Jesse deserted. Why would he desert after almost nine years with just a few months to go? It's a mystery. Maybe he had done something that would get him into hot water, so rather than wait around, he just left. His military records from the National Archives are very skimpy and lack the details to answer the question.

Until recently, this was as much as I knew about the elusive Jesse. The next part of the story is new information that I compiled over the weekend. 

Jesse was enumerated twice in the US Census in 1900. The first enumeration was on the June 1st, 1900. He stated the name of his home town specifically as "Brewer, Missouri." Brewer is a tiny community in Perry County, Missouri. Most people have never heard of it.

A second enumeration was recorded on the 23rd of June, when he had been admitted to the Santa Mesa Hospital in the Phillippines for an unknown cause. Jesse Rankin told the census taker that he was born in Missouri.

"Jessie" Rankin was enumerated in the 1910 Census, and it shows that he was working as a hired hand for the Adams family in Crawford County, Arkansas. He may not have actually talked to the enumerator. The census shows that Jesse was "32" years old, though at the time his actual age was 37.

In 1913, Jesse was married to Etta (or Elta) Clark on 25 February 1913 in Shady, Polk County, Arkansas. Polk County is just two counties south of Crawford County. There were no children of this marriage. Etta had previously been married to Frank Dickens, and they had one child, Mena Iona Dickens.

Jesse registered for the "Old Man's Draft" on 12 September 1918. His stated age was 45, which is accurate.

In 1920, "Jessie Rankings" and "Ettie," his wife, were again enumerated. Jesse, once again, gave his place of birth as "Missouri."

Jesse Rankin died on the 18th day of August, 1921, at the age of 47. His Arkansas death certificate number is 1114. His widow, Etta, survived Jesse by at least one year.

Thanks to the librarians at the Polk County Library in Mena, I now have an obituary for Jesse, first published in The Mena Star:
Funeral of Jesse Rankin was held Saturday at his home. Burial was at White Oak Cemetery. Mr. Rankin was born in 1873 in St. Mary's, Missouri, and was 18 when he entered the military. He married Ettie Clark, widow of Frank Dickens, about 8 years ago. He is survived by his wife, one step-daughter, Mena Iona Dickens, four brothers and two sisters living in St. Louis.
Although the obituary says he was buried in the White Oak Cemetery, there is no record of his burial in the Cemetery Inscriptions of Polk County, Arkansas, printed in 1984 by Kannady & Daniel.

Copyright 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

WPA Mural: Jared French "Lunchtime with the Early Miners," 1938

U.S. Post Office Building, Plymouth: Lunchtime with Early Miners (1938) by Jared French, who painted the only nude in New Deal post office murals, despite warnings by government officials.

          Nudity was to be avoided, and Section Director Edward Bruce was emphatic about this point. “Anybody who wanted to paint a nude ought to have his head examined!” he declared. 

          Bruce’s officials were quick to advise artists to remove or tone down anything that might be deemed risqué. Once again, however, depictions of Native Americans proved to be an exception to the rule. Artists who specialized in figurative art could portray muscular, nearly naked Native Americans in poses deemed inappropriate for whites. 
          Jared French (1905–1987), an artist who devised an unusual pictorial language to explore human unconsciousness and its relation to sexuality, could not resist testing the boundaries. In 1937, he was working on two post office murals, one for Plymouth, Pennsylvania, and the second for Richmond, Virginia. 

          For the Richmond commission, he proposed depicting a group of Confederate soldiers in various states of undress preparing to cross a stream to flee advancing Union forces. The Section advised French that the figures must be clothed. “You have painted enough nudes in your life so that the painting of several more or less should not matter in your artistic career,” wrote a Section administrator. French capitulated on the Richmond mural—he wanted to be paid after all—but as a final jab at Rowan and the Section, he did manage to paint one more nude. 

          Before finishing the Plymouth mural, Mealtime with the Early Coal Miners, French inserted into the background a male figure piloting a barge, inexplicably unclothed. The nude pilot, like the union buttons of the railcar workers, went undetected by Treasury Department officials. The offending image appeared too small to be detected in the final eight-by-ten-inch photographs, and Mealtime became the only example of full-frontal nudity in a United States Post Office.

Source: David Lembeck, "Rediscovering the People's Art: New Deal Murals in Pennsylvania's Post Offices," article, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, ( posted 21 Sep 2015), para. 22.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Uncle Gordon Goes Joyriding

Death from Row with Six Thugs

Belvidere Daily Republican - (Special by United Press) 

Sunday, 7 December 1925

          One patrolman is near death, another man is dangerously injured, and two youths are in the hospital today following a holdup and shooting escapade and motor car collision overnight. 
           The patrolman, Theodore H. Funke, had stopped six youths in a stolen Packard motor car in the county after they had held up the owner of the car, Herman Hecht, and his niece.
          After Funke had fallen from the car, the six bandits in the Packard drove on, finally crashing broadside into a motor car driven by Henry Holthausen. The latter was badly injured. The patrolman leaped on the running board of the stolen car and was met by a fusillade of bullets. He was struck seven times.1


Sometimes You Just Have to Learn Things the Hard Way     

          One of the boys in the car that night was my great-uncle, Gordon. This is the family story that has been passed down to my generation. Family stories can be wrong, but so can newspapers.

          The story that I heard goes like this: Gordon was out joyriding with five friends. When the car they were in crashed, the boys did some scrambling. Some of the joyriders were well over 21 years of age. The oldest was 32. 

          According to the family, the older men told Gordon, age 17, to say that he did the shooting, because he would get off with a lighter sentence, being under 18 years old. After three trials, finally, the sentencing of the guilty parties would begin in April 1926. 

          The first to be sentenced was Frank O'Brien, age 19. He drew a sentence of 25 years.

          Next, William Palmisano, 23, was sentenced to 30 years. It was the heaviest sentence on an assault charge in the history of the St. Louis criminal courts.

          Gordon and Andrew Stangel were sitting in the courtroom during the sentencing of O'Brien and Palmisano. They heard the sentences meted out to the first two defendants and they must have been scared out of their wits.

          Both Gordon and Andrew withdrew their former pleas of "not guilty" and "threw themselves on the mercy of the court." The sentence for "assault with malice" ranged from two years to life imprisonment. 
          The testimony in the two previous trials showed that neither Gordon nor Andrew had fired any of the seven shots that seriously injured Officer Funke, and both Gordon and Andrew had been injured themselves after the shooting when the automobile they were riding in collided with another car at Grand Avenue and Bates Street.

          Andrew Stangel got five years.

          Gordon, now 18, was convicted of "assault with intent to kill." He was sentenced to ten years in the Missouri State Penitentiary. He would not be leaving the State Prison until the 14th of April 1936, if he served his full 

          Fortunately for Gordon, he must have been an exemplary inmate. He was released on the 15th of October 1931, having served about half of his original sentence. And, as far as I can tell, he was never again involved in any serious criminal activity.3 

          1. United Press, "Death from Row with Six Thugs," article, Belvidere Daily Republican, online, 7 December 1925; online, : accessed 12 September 2015.
          2. "Long Terms of Pals Draw Two Pleas of Guilt in Funke Case," St. Louis Daily Globe-Democrat, 16 April 1926, St. Louis Public Library, pg. 32, col. 2.
          3. Missouri Secretary of State, "Register of Inmates," Missouri State Archives, 1926-1931, pg. 185, record of Gordon [surname withheld], inmate number 29822, age 18, convicted of "assault with intent to kill."

Copyright 2015. All Rights Reserved. 

Saturday, September 12, 2015

War of 1812 Bicentennial

This year, 2015, marks 200th anniversary of the end of the War of 1812. It's not a war that I know much about, but I have a special interest in it. In my research I have found many of my ancestors performed military service. All but one of them returned home to their families when their service was completed.

The one that didn't return was my gggg-grandfather, Joel Thorpe. According to various published histories and from correspondence from other descendants, the story goes like this:

-- Joel Thorpe was killed in the War of 1812 at the Battle of Lundy's Lane.

-- Or he was a sharpshooter in the War of 1812 and was killed at the Battle of Lundy's Lane.

-- Or he commanded a unit of sharpshooters in the War of 1812 and was killed at the Battle of Lundy's Lane.

The story seems to get a little more interesting with each telling. 

The Battle of Lundy's Lane took place in Ontario, Canada, on 25 July 1814, and has been called the "bloodiest battle of the war." Since hearing this story for the first time, I've read numerous books and articles to find more information about the battle and evidence of Joel Thorpe's participation in it. So far I have found nothing that directly ties him to this battle.

So just what did happen to Joel Thorpe in the War of 1812? Was he really killed at Lundy's Lane in the "bloodiest battle of the war?" I thought that maybe in this anniversary year of the end of War of 1812 there might be some new information available that could answer these questions.

First, a little background.

Joel and his wife, Sarah Dayton Thorpe, and their three young children left North Haven, Connecticut in 1799, traveling by ox-cart to the Western Reserve in Ohio. After a few years living in the wilderness and enduring many hardships, the family moved into the new town of Cleveland. Joel was a millwright and carpenter and in this young community he could make a good living at his trade. He built one of the first wood frame buildings in Cleveland for Lorenzo Carter which was going to be used as a tavern. Unfortunately it burned to the ground before it was occupied.

In 1804, Joel Thorpe joined the militia that was organized in case of an Indian attack, and he signed a petition protesting the election of Lorenzo Carter as its leader. By 1808, Joel and Sarah had moved to Newburgh, just outside of Cleveland, where he built a schooner called the Sally. Shipping was another lucrative enterprise for a town located on the shores of Lake Erie.

According to one bit of correspondence, Joel was contracted by the Holland Land Company to build houses in Buffalo. Given his apparent skill as a carpenter, this seems a likely scenario. By 1811 the family, now numbering seven children, made the move to Buffalo, possibly by sailing across Lake Erie on the Sally.

The timing could not have been worse. War with the British was coming. The American Fort Niagara faced the British Fort George across the Niagara River in Ontario, a few miles to the north of Buffalo. In May 1813, the Americans captured Fort George and were in control of both sides of the Niagara river.

You know how sometimes there's something right in front of you and you can't see it?

In my notes for Sarah Dayton Thorpe, I found an item that I had saved. It said "Joel Thorpe died at Beaver Dam or Lundy's Lane" and gave the date of his death as 24 June 1813. The author of this statement was Charles Nathan Dayton of New Haven, Connecticut, b. 1843, d. 1924, in A Dayton Record. He was probably a relative of Sarah.

I couldn't recall ever researching a place called "Beaver Dam," so I went online to see what I could find out about any battles fought there.

A basic description of the Battle of Beaver Dams was found in Wikipedia. It has also been written up in a number of published histories, but, as expected, none of them mention Joel Thorpe by name. Then I stumbled across an account of the battle that was published in the Buffalo Gazette on 29 Jun 1813 and was reprinted in other newspapers around the US. The most complete version is transcribed here, with my notes and comments in square brackets:

From the BUFFALO GAZETTE, 29 Jun 1813

On Saturday week [19 June] the mounted men under Major [Cyrenius] Chapin [a surgeon and leader of the local militia], passed down to Queenstown [Ontario].
On Sunday [20 June] Mr. E. Sloot, of this town [Buffalo], crossed [the Niagara river] at Black Rock, and with Ab. Ransom, late of this village, proceeded for Queenstown; when they had passed the foot of Lunday's [sic] Lane, (a place principally settled by the Rangers who fought under Butler in the Revolutionary War) they were fired upon by a small party of the enemy concealed, and Ransom made prisoner, Sloot making his escape to Queenstown.
For several days previous to this [16-18 June], small parties of the enemy [British] had been lurking about the Lane, and were at this time supposed from their audacity to have been considerably reinforced.
On Monday [21 June] a detachment of 150 infantry under Capt. Myers from Fort George, with Chapin's corps, marched for the Lane; when the advance [mounted riflemen of Chapin’s militia] came near the place where Ransom was taken, they were fired upon by the enemy, and Sloot was shot dead; 5 balls and a buck shot took effect; the guard retired, and the enemy retreated before the Infantry came up; it being apparent that the enemy had retreated to draw our troops into a snare, they were pursued but a small distance.
N. D. Keep who belonged to Major Chapin's company, was taken asleep [captured] by the enemy about a mile from this place. The party returned to Queenstown.
On Wednesday last [23 June] a force marched from Fort George, under command of Col. Boerstler, consisting of 3 or 400 infantry, 2 pieces light artillery, 20 dragoons, and about 40 men, under Major Chapin, and encamped at Queenstown.
On Thursday morning [24 June] Colonel B[oerstler] marched towards the Beaver dam, and we understand from two of Chapin's men, who with four others made their escape, that an action commenced at 11 o'clock, between the advanced parties, and continued for some time, when the enemy out flanked and surrounded our men, and have very probably captured them.
We know not the loss in killed, but hope we may obtain some correct account this day. We learn that Joel Thorp of this town [Buffalo] was killed in the beginning of the action.

Well, if that isn't a smoking gun, I don't know what is!

Joel Thorpe had been a member of the militia in Cleveland, so it's not surprising he would have joined the one in Buffalo. His position in the militia as a mounted rifleman may account the designation as sharpshooter 200 years later. And the repeated references to Lundy's Lane may have led to the assumption that he fought and died in the battle of that name.

However, the Battle of Lundy's Lane was fought on 25 July 1814, a full year after this account of Joel Thorpe's death. All this indirect evidence taken together seems to indicate that Joel Thorpe was a part of the Buffalo militia and was killed in the Battle of Beaver Dams on 24 Jun 1813.


"From the Buffalo Gazette of June 29. War events." Democratic Press, July 12, 1813. (accessed January 29, 2012).

Pratt, G F. "Biographical Sketch of the late Dr Cyrenius Chapin, of Buffalo." Buffalo Medical Journal. 8. (1869). (accessed January 26, 2012).

Smith, H. Perry. History of the city of Buffalo. Syracuse: D. Mason & Co., 1884. (accessed January 26, 2012).

Payne-Joyce, D. "Pane-Joyce Genealogy." Last modified Dec 2011. Accessed January 29, 2012. [referencing: Dayton, Charles Nathan, and James W. Dayton. 1963. A Dayton record. New Haven, Conn: New Haven Colony Historical Society.]

Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, 2012. s.v. "Battle of Beaver Dams." (accessed January 26, 2012).

Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, 2012. s.v. "Battle of Lundy's Lane." (accessed January 26, 2012).

Friday, September 11, 2015

Got a Marriage Certificate for your Great-Great-Grandparents?

I do! 

I received the marriage record for my great-great-grandparents, John Williams and Mary Richards. They were married in Wales and later emigrated to the US. The process of ordering British documents from the General Register Office, or GRO, was surprisingly easy. It can all be done online, and you can pay for the documents with a credit card.

There are quite a few companies out there that will order the certificate for you, but they all add a hefty surcharge which more than doubles the cost. Ordering directly from the GRO, I saved enough to pay for two more marriage records!

Before you can place an order, you first have to do a little legwork and provide specific information.  This can be easily done by using the FreeBMD website and following the instructions. When you're finished, click on the link that says "Click here to learn what to do now." This page explains what information is on each type of certificate (birth, marriage or death), and ways to order. I clicked on the link for ordering a record from the GRO and that took me directly to the Home Office Identity and Passport Service webpage.

After clicking the link to Order a certificate online now, the rest of the process was very simple and straightforward. The only thing that wasn't explained was the exchange rate. Just how much is £9.25 in US Dollars? I did a Google search for a currency converter and picked one.  The converter showed that "£9.25" equates to "$14.02." I completed my transaction, printed a copy of my receipt and then just had to wait for the mail.

The certificate arrived about 3 weeks from the date of my order. Not too bad, considering that my last batch of death certificates from Pennsylvania took 6 months! There's also something exciting about getting a letter from "Royal Mail." Below is an image of the actual certificate. The document is slightly longer than the standard US 8.5"x 11" sheet, so it doesn't fit neatly into standard document protectors without folding.

Did this document tell me anything I didn't already know? Yes, quite a bit. I now have the actual date of marriage, rather than just an approximate year. It's also nice to get confirmation that both parties lived in Aberdare and that John Williams was a coal miner in Wales, just as he was later in Pennsylvania.

Two new names can be added to my family tree: John Williams, father of the groom, and David Richards, father of the bride. I'm not sure why only the fathers' names were listed on the document. I had hoped the get the maiden names of the mothers as well.

One of the witnesses to the marriage was David Richards. Did Mary's father sign as a witness, or was it her brother of the same name? The second witness, William Griffiths, doesn't appear to be related, but he could be a brother-in-law, a cousin or a neighbor. All the parties who signed made their mark, "X."

John and Mary's marriage took place at Siloa Chapel "according to the Rites and Ceremonies of the Independents." I had no idea what that meant, but when in doubt, just Google it. 

The so-called "Independents" were non-conformists. An early leader in the 1600's, Robert Browne, and his followers were called "Separatists," "Brownists," "Independents" and "Congregationalists." The Independents believed "a Christian had no need of a Bishop's consent to preach the gospel." They formed small groups led by a minister, and the highest office holders were deacons or elders. Each church congregation was slightly different, striking  a balance between the beliefs of the minister and the beliefs of the congregation.

            Siloa Chapel, Aberdare, Wales

The laws changed frequently over the next 200 years. When  civil registration of marriages began in 1837, the law allowed Congregational marriages, but only if there was a civil Registrar present as well. This law lasted until 1898.

Thus we see that on 10 February 1868, at the marriage of John Williams and Mary Richards, the certificate was signed by the David Price, Minister, and also by Morgan Williams, Registrar.

Siloa Chapel is still standing, though in a more urban setting. Today it has become a Welsh language chapel.

As a bachelor, John Williams had been living at Cynon Row, and Mary Richards had been living with her parents and siblings on Mill Street. After their marriage they set up housekeeping just one block away from Mary's parents' residence, in a typical Welsh row cottage at number 12 Primrose Hill. John and Mary's first three children were born in Wales. Their youngest son, my great-grandfather, Thomas, was born in Pennsylvania.

Thursday, September 10, 2015


Growing up in San Francisco, I was used to hearing about the exotic origins of my friends. Many were immigrants or children of immigrants. My parents were not native Californians and I naturally assumed that they and my grandparents were the first of our family to settle here, and that my generation was the first to be born in California.

One should never assume anything.

Over the years I have taken many road trips to southern California, traveling on scenic Hwy 101, through valleys and vineyards, over the mountains, and along the coastline. One of the places I look forward to seeing is a small beach community called Carpinteria, which is a Spanish word for a carpenter's workshop. I would stop there to fill up my gas tank and maybe get something to eat. The last exit for Carpinteria is “Bailard Avenue,” and it became a sort of marker. Once we passed the “Bailard Avenue” sign, we were only about two hours from our destination.

Bailard Avenue was named for the early settlers, Andrew and Martha Catherine Shoults Bailard. Andrew Bailard, a native of Germany, had come to the U.S. as a young man and settled in Missouri. In 1852, Andrew joined a wagon train going to California. In the party were Alexander and Margaret Burns Bailey, and their three orphaned nieces and a nephew. Apparently the people in this party got to know each other very well on the 6-month journey west. When they arrived in northern California, Andrew Bailard and Martha Catherine Shoults were married in the coastal town of Half Moon Bay in San Mateo County. 

In 1869, after years in northern California, Andrew Bailard relocated to Santa Barbara County, and a year later, Alexander Bailey also moved south and purchased property adjoining the Bailards.

Andrew Bailard found even greater success in Carpinteria. His farm produced lima beans, and his orchards produced walnuts almonds, oranges, lemons, quince, apples, apricots, plums, prunes, peaches, cherries and nectarines; in addition they raised turkeys, hogs, made butter, and raised bees for honey. 

In 1873, Andrew wrote to his youngest brother in Missouri. He told Lawrence he should come to California and make his fortune. By this time, the railroads had made traveling to the west much easier and safer. In 1874, Lawrence, his wife, Mary Theresa Michaels Doerr Baylard, and their younger children relocated to Carpinteria. The spelling of their surname has gone through many changes over the years. The immigrants used the spelling “Boehlert.” Later, the “o” was dropped, and it became “Behlert.” The family in Missouri used the spelling “Baylard,” while Andrew in California spelled his name “Bailard.” 

Which explains why I never made the connection between the California "Bailards" and the Missouri "Baylards," "Behlerts," and "Boehlerts."

Theresa Baylard, as she was known, was my ggg-grandmother. She was the mother of ten children by her first husband, Phillip Doerr, who died at the age of 39. Three years later, at the age of 38, she married Lawrence Baylard, 26. She and Lawrence had two daughters. Theresa was 42 when her youngest daughter was born. Perhaps because he knew he could not have a son of his own, in 1873, Lawrence Baylard agreed to raise an infant whose father was dying. His name was Joseph Jesse Swink.

By the time Andrew Bailard invited them to move to Santa Barbara County, most of Theresa’s older children were married with families of their own. Just the two youngest of Theresa’s sons, Phillip, 20, & John Ruben Doerr, 14, made the trip to California, along with the baby sister, Minetta, 5, and Joseph Swink.

How I discovered that the family went to California was completely accidental. In the course of perusing the old town newspapers, I came upon a short article.

17 Feb 1882, Weekly Perryville Union
“By last Monday evening’s mail we received a letter from our young friend, Philip Doerr, of Carpenteria, San[ta] Barbara county, California, ordering the Union sent to him. Also gives us the following new item: Married, on Sunday, January 29th, 1882, at the above city, by Rev. Pratt, Mr. John Doerr to Miss Emma Moncton. John is the youngest brother of Philip, and has been residing in California since 1874.”

Well, blow me down!

The family that had disappeared from the Missouri records had moved to a town that I visited frequently. On my next trip to the area, I paid a visit to the Carpinteria Valley Historical Society. As I was viewing the historical artifacts on display, I noticed a large photographic image on the wall behind them. It was a floor to ceiling mural created from a photograph. In the mural were some young boys in overalls posing atop a tractor. The curator informed me that these were my cousins, the Doerr children. 


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Two Tragic Deaths in the Same Family

A few years ago I found some newspaper items that described the tragic deaths of my gg-grandmother and one of her daughters. In the newspaper my gg-grandmother, Mary, is identified as only "Mrs. John Williams." Her death reminds me of just how difficult and dangerous everyday life was only 100 years ago.

Mary Richards was born in 1845 in Wales. She married John Williams in 1867 and they lived in the town of Aberdare, Glamorgan. John Williams traveled to America in 1872 and found work in the coal mines. When he had earned enough money to send for his family, Mary and their three children, Margaret, David and Janet, joined him in 1875. Their last child was my great-grandfather, Thomas, who was born in Pennsylvania in 1876.

In 1906, their daughter Janet, known as "Jennie," was married to Isaac Lewis by the Reverend R. T. Roberts of the Welsh Presbyterian Church. By all accounts Jennie was popular girl who was described as having a lovely contralto singing voice. So the entire community was shocked and saddened when she died just six weeks after her wedding of "lung trouble," from a combination of rheumatism, croup and pneumonia. My grandmother was named "Janet" in honor of the aunt she would never meet.

Just three years after Jennie's death, on the morning of April 21, 1909, her mother, Mary Richards Williams, fell while carrying an oil lamp up the stairs, which set fire to her clothing. It's easy to imagine the scene: Mary is climbing the stairs; she is wearing a floor-length skirt, and carrying an oil lamp; she might also have been carrying objects, like clothing or blankets in one arm while holding the lamp with the other. She may have been home alone with no one near enough to hear her screams for help.

Mary was burned severely and must have endured tremendous suffering over the next 36 hours. She finally passed away on the evening of April 22, 1909. Once again, Reverend Roberts was on hand, this time to comfort the grieving family.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Honoring Stanton Gage, Lieutenant, USAAF

It all started when I posted a link to the video “Isaac’s Storm” on Facebook. “Isaac’s Storm” is the story of Isaac Cline, chief meteorologist at the Galveston, Texas office of the US Weather Bureau. The hurricane that hit the island of Galveston in 1900 is considered to be the deadliest natural disaster in US history.

Years earlier, I saw a comment on someone’s family tree that Martha Richardson McCarroll had died in the Galveston Hurricane of 1900. I made note of it as something to check out in the future. Martha was a relative, younger sister of my 4th great-grandmother, Elizabeth Richardson Rankin McCabe.

I decided to do a little research to see if there was any truth to the story. It didn’t take long to discover that Martha had not died in Galveston in 1900. She was listed in the Galveston city directories for 1890 & 1891, and in the Houston directory in 1902. She was not on the casualty list compiled by the Rosenburg Library in Galveston. She probably experienced the hurricane in 1900, as Houston is on the Texas coast near Galveston, but she survived.

I figured as long as I was researching Martha, I should see if I could find any new information about her children. She had at least eleven children by her first husband, John McCarroll. Eldest daughter, Amanda, lived in Hills Boro, Hill County, Texas, with her husband Eugene Vinyard. Eugene’s occupation was stated in the 1880 Census as “City Butcher.”

Amanda and Eugene Vinyard had one son and three daughters. Eldest daughter, Julia Lavina married George Franklin Sturgis. Their daughter, Florence, married James William Boyd and had daughter, Grace. Grace Boyd married Carleton Gage and had two children: son Stanton and daughter Gwen. Then they divorced.

Carleton Gage was a realtor and insurance agent. His ex-wife, who went by the name of “Mrs. Grace Boyd Gage,” was a socialite, appearing frequently in the Society pages. Their son, Stanton, had some apparent artistic talent as a youngster.

In 1930 the Dallas Morning News ran an article titled "Art Sorority Plans Saturday Luncheon." The sorority was Alpha Rho Tau, of Southern Methodist University. Olive Donaldson, head of the art department of SMU, was scheduled to speak on “Creative Art,” and Carol McKenzie would demonstrate with a small group of pupils “the creative possibilities of a child.” One of the children participating in this event was eight-year-old Stanton Gage.

On May 19, 1933, Sanger’s, a Dallas clothing store, sponsored a "Talented Kiddies Contest" featuring Tommy Bond, “a movie star with the Our Gang Comedies." Tommy also attended the John S. Bradfield School in Dallas. Talented students from three schools were scheduled to participate in the program and the winner would be awarded a prize of $2.50! 

The John S. Armstrong School had five entries in the contest. Four of the acts involved singing and dancing, but one other stood out. Eleven-year-old Stanton Gage was to be 4th on the program and he would be demonstrating his free-hand drawing skills.

Stanton Gage later became a student at Southern Methodist University, but when WWII began he enlisted in the Army Air Force. The Dallas Morning News reported that Stanton Gage had received his wings and commission as a second lieutenant in the Army Air Force at Boise, Idaho. He married his sweetheart before going overseas. An article appeared in the Dallas Morning News on May 4, 1943 “Lunch Planned Thursday Honoring Mrs. Stanton Gage.”

“Mrs Stanton Gage will be honored with a luncheon in the Mural Room Thursday given by Mrs. Grace Boyd Gage. The honoree, before her marriage to the hostess’ son, was Miss Alta Jean Peterson, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J. P. Peterson of Sioux Falls, SD. The honoree will leave soon for a visit with her parents at their summer cottage on Lake Minnewawa in Minnesota, before joining her husband, who is an aviation cadet at Kelly Field, San Antonio…He is the son of Mrs. Grace Boyd Gage and Carleton Gage.”

August 13, 1944, the Dallas Morning News reported that three Dallas residents had been awarded medals. “Second Lt. Stanton Gage, son of Mrs. Grace Boyd Gage, 2704 Mockingbird Lane, has been awarded the Air Medal for participation in air raids over Germany. He is a bombardier on a Flying Fortress. His wife is Mrs. Alta Jean Gage, also of Dallas.”

Then the unthinkable happened. Another article in Dallas Morning News on November 28, 1944 was titled “Two Dallasites Die in Action.

“Lt. Stanton Gage, 22, son of Mrs Grace Boyd Gage, 3704 Mockingbird Lane, and Carleton Gage, was killed in aerial combat over Germany, his mother has been advised through the International Red Cross. He has been reported missing in action Sept. 30, while on his twenty-second mission as a bombardier on a Flying Fortress. Lieutenant Gage was graduated from Highland Park High School and attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Chicago and Southern Methodist University. He also is survived by his wife, Mrs. Alta Jean Gage, formerly of Minneapolis, Minn. Lieutenant Gage had been awarded the Air Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters for gallantry in action.”

How is it possible that this talented young man could have been killed on his 22nd mission? The crew of another Flying Fortress, the Memphis Belle, were retired after 25 missions. What happened?

A search of B-17 plane crashes on September 30, 1944 led to a Find A Grave page for Sgt. Carrel W. Stamps, who was on the same plane.

“On 9/30/1944 while on a group bombing mission Stamps’ plane was struck by a bomb falling from another bomber. The bomb exploded causing his plane to explode as well and crash near Bielefeld, Germany. His plane was SN# 43-38115 and was named the Reluctant Lassie. The Air Force accident report number for this incident is MACR 9429. All crew members died except for one who was captured by the Germans and held for the remainder of the war as a prisoner of war.”

The names of everyone on the plane were included in the story, and Stanton Gage was listed as one of the casualties.

MACR stands for “Missing Air Craft Report.” The entire 27 page MACR 9429 report can be found on the Fold3 website. The official military report confirmed the story on Sgt. Stamps’ Find A Grave page. It was an unfortunate case of 
so-called “friendly fire.”

Lt. Stanton Gage is buried at Arlington National Cemetery, our nation’s most hallowed ground. His name is included in the World War II Memorial at Southern Methodist University, dedicated to the alumni who gave their lives for their country. Stanton’s father, Carleton Gage, established the "Stanton Gage Art Award Memorial Fund" at Highland Park High School in memory of his only son who was killed in World War II.

Copyright 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Oh, Bennie!

Benjamin Franklin Appleton was born on the third of November, probably in 1890. The records found give a variety of years. Bennie himself most often gave the date of his birth as 3 November 1892. He was the youngest of seven children, and the only son of Thomas and Emma Barney Appleton.

When Bennie was 15 years old, he started working in the post office at Christopher, PA. The postmaster was a relative. On the 3rd of October 1906, Bennie was arrested on the charge of “opening registered letters and taking money from them.” The arrest was made by a US Marshall at the insistence of the postal inspector. Bennie was held pending a hearing.

Bennie’s case came to trial in Feb 1907 and the verdict came down on the 28th: “Not Guilty.” Judge Archibald ruled that the woman, who claimed $5 had been taken from a letter addressed to her, could not prove that there had actually been $25 in the envelope, since the only proof of that amount was a statement in the letter made by the person who sent it. Bennie was acquitted.

On 20 July 1909, at age 18, Bennie was married to Matilda Fitcher, but she used the alias “Mabel Jones.” There is no explanation for the alias. Maybe she just preferred to be called Mabel Jones. The 1910 census shows that Bennie and Mabel were living with his parents and his siblings. Pennsylvania law stated that both men and women must be 21 to marry. Bennie and Mabel were both under age, so their parents must have given permission for the marriage. However, it appears that both Bennie and Mabel fudged on their ages. The 1910 Census taken in April, 10 months after their marriage, shows that Bennie, at that time, was 17 and Mabel was 16. 

Or maybe they were just really bad at math.

The marriage of Bennie and Mabel didn’t last long. On the 3rd of November 1914, the newspaper reported that Benjamin Appleton had gotten a divorce in Delaware from Mabel Jones. The grounds were “desertion.” 

Poor Bennie.

The following week, however, Bennie, now age 24, married Edna Sorber, 23. One month later, on 10 Dec 1914, Bennie was in big trouble. He was arrested on the charge of forgery. His story was that his mother had died five weeks earlier, and he’d been married just six weeks. Besides that, he was unemployed. He told the court that he had been working for a local undertaker, but was laid off and needed money. He forged four checks, and on each of the checks he signed the name of a prominent businessman. The total amount of the forged checks added up to $70. Adjusted for inflation, it would be the equivalent of about $1656 today.

The next day, 14 Dec 1914, Bennie plead guilty to forgery.

Poor Edna, his bride of six weeks, was hysterical. She asked the Court to be lenient. The judge asked the police to furnish him with Bennie’s record. The police told the judge that all they knew was that he had trouble with his wife and that they had lived together until he got the divorce in Delaware.

On 13 Feb 1915, the day of Bennie’s sentencing, the judge asked Bennie how long he had been in Delaware. Bennie told him four months, which did not meet the residency requirements. Turns out Bennie had not gotten a divorce in Delaware at all. He admitted he had deceived the Court. 

Forgery and Bigamy!

Judge Strauss threw the book at Bennie. He was sentenced to a term of not less than 2 or more than 5 years in the Eastern State Penitentiary, a new state of the art maximum security prison in Philadelphia.

Edna immediately filed for divorce.

Some people just never learn. Bennie was out on parole after serving a two-year sentence. But in Sep 1917, he was back before Magistrate Masterson on three separate charges of forgery. He was on his way back to the Eastern State Penitentiary. He was paroled again in 1919, but by December he was wanted again for forgery, the theft of a horse, and various other crimes.

Unfortunately, the newspaper accounts end in 1922. However, that’s not the end of the story.

In 1925, Bennie married wife number 3, Catherine. In 1927, Bennie was working as a janitor in Hartford, Ct. Bennie and Catherine had three children: Margaret, who was born in Pennsylvania, Ben Jr., who was born in Massachusetts, and Doris, who was born in New Jersey. They are all listed in the 1940 census. At that time the family was living in New York City.

They moved around a lot.

By 1942, however, Bennie was no longer with his family. He was living in Hartford, Ct. Bennie registered for the WWII draft, and from that we can get a description of what he looked like: he was white, height 5’4″, weight 125 lbs., blue eyes, and blonde hair.

Two years later, the City Directory shows that Bennie was boarding in the home of a Mrs. Ada Vandling in Hartford while he worked for the NY, New Haven & Hartford Railroad. Later, Ada Vandling would be known as Ada Appleton, apparently married to Bennie. She passed away in 1958.

Bennie spent the rest of his life in Hartford and in retirement he worked as a watchman. After a long and very interesting life, he died on 6 Jan 1979 at the age of 88 years.

Copyright 2015. All Rights Reserved.