Eldridges: From Cape Cod to Maine
at One of my great-grandfathers was Henry Herbert Eldridge, a descendant of a family that first settled in Cape Cod in 1635. H.H., as he was known, was born in Prospect, Maine, and my mother, who has a clear memory of him, said that he was known as a "whole-hearted, generous man," characteristics that, with luck, may still linger in our DNA.
H.H. was born in 1853, the son of Christopher A. Eldridge and Margaret Ann Ray. His mother died when he was seven years old in April 1860, after a long illness. Two years and two months later his father, Christopher died at sea. Henry and his younger brother Charles were taken in by his grandfather, who operated a carding mill nearby.
The boys’ grandfather, Knowles Godfrey Eldridge and his wife, the former Christiana Pope, raised his two grandsons at their home near the shipyard in Surry. In the 1870 census, 16-year-old Henry and his 14-year-old brother were listed as mariners. Knowles Godfrey, who was 73 that year and still worked at his carding mill. Twenty years earlier, in 1850, the census listed him as a clothier and in 1840 as in manufacture.
When he was 25, in 1878, H.H. married Laura Adams Phillips, a descendant of another family that had settled Orrington around the same time Knowles Godfrey’s father settled there in the 1790s. Two years later, H.H. appears to have followed his grandfather into the manufacture of cloth. The 1880 census lists him as a woolcarder and his name appears on an 1881 map of Surry that shows “H.H. Eldridge Carding Mill.”
Between 1879 and 1890, H.H. and Laura had five children, including twin girls, my grandmother, Mattie Belle, and her sister, Minnie. During this period, H.H. and his brother went into the painting business that had been started by another of Knowles Godfrey’s sons. By 1895, the Eldridges won the contract to paint Togus Veterans Home outside Augusta and the family moved to nearby Gardiner. For the next thirty years they ran the Eldridge Brothers Company with an office first at 9 Bridge Street then at 360 Water Avenue.
After moving to Gardiner, fate struck the Eldridge family when H.H.’s wife Laura died in 1902. He married again, to Emily Sampson, in 1903, but she died of breast cancer seven years later.
H.H. married again and his third wife, Clara, whom he married in 1914, was the only real grandmother my mother ever knew. Clara is pictured below in 1919 with my mother, age 2, and her two older sisters, Marjorie and Betty.
Henry Herbert’s obituary in 1930 described his contributions to local Gardiner society.
The Eldridges in Cape Cod
In the 1960s, my mother and her sisters began to piece together the family tree, documenting that Knowles Godfrey Eldridge was born in Chatham, Massachusetts in 1797, just when his father, Captain Hezekiah Eldridge was settling in the newly-established town of Orrington, Maine. Knowles Godfrey’s mother was Mercy Godfrey, the daughter of another prominent Cape Cod family, and she passed her maiden name down to her son.
Captain Hezekiah’s father was also named Hezekiah and there is little trace of him in the records other than a note that he had to tear down his house and barn, valued at 17 pounds, to stop the spread of smallpox in Chatham in 1765-6. Hezekiah, Sr. had married Mary Doane, a daughter in the well-established family that descended from Deacon John Doane of Plymouth.
Hezekiah was the son of William Eldredge (1702-1753) and the grandson of Sgt. Joseph Elredge (1662-1735), who himself was the son of Robert and Elizabeth Nickerson, some of the original settlers of Chatham along with four Eldredge brothers.: Nicholas, Robert, Samuel and Joseph.
Robert Eldredge first came to Plymouth in the Massachusetts Bay Colony as an indentured servant in 1635. He was listed to bear arms in 1643 in Plymouth then went to Yarmouth about 1645 where he married Elizabeth. He was constable in Yarmouth in 1657 and the family later moved and lived on a farm north of Oyster Pond in what is now West Chatham on part of the property deeded to Elizabeth by her father, William Nickerson, Chatham’s largest landowner.
You can learn more about the early history of Chatham and the Nickerson family at the Nickerson Family website http://cnh.nickersonassoc.com/
References: Genealogies : Eldred, Eldredge by Hawes, James W. (James William), 1844.
A History of Chatham, Massachusetts: formerly the Constablewick or Village of Monomoit ; with maps and llustrations and numerous genealogical notes"Part 3 By William Christopher Smith ,1909
The Elusive Donnellan Line
I’ve had great success researching my ancestors who arrived in New England 400 years ago but I keep running into stonewalls when I try to learn more about my Irish great-grandfather who came to New England about 150 years ago. Thomas Donnellan was a 20-year-old from Ireland when he sailed on the Ocean Wave from Ireland in 1865. I believe he married Margaret Cowan shortly thereafter and eventually fathered my grandmother, Mary Jane, in Manchester, Connecticut, in 1877.
I am hedging here because the birth, marriage and death records for the family are nowhere to be found online. Thousands of Irish immigrants flooded America back in those years but the record of their family milestones are hard to unearth. I know Thomas died in 1891 because I’ve seen his grave marker at St. Bridget Cemetery in Manchester but it tells me little about the man.
Manchester was a mill town back in the 19th-century, dominated the world-famous Cheney Silk Mill. Both my grandmother and her sister, Margaret, worked there but there is no trace of how their father was employed.
There is more information about Mrs. Donnellan, born Margaret Cowan in Ireland in 1849. She came to America with her parents and six siblings before 1860. The photos below show Margaret Cowan, 1830-1884 (left), and her daughter Margaret Cowan Donnellan, 1849-1921.
Margaret Cowan’s oldest brother, Francis, was listed as a weaver in the 1860 census but soon he was raising his sword high above his head in full uniform to pose for a photo before going off to fight with the Yankees in the Civil War, a fate common to many Irish immigrants.
Frank Cowan served for three years in the Connecticut Fifth Infantry, marching from Harper’s Ferry, Virginia to the battlefields of Manassas and Gettysburg. He survived, presumably unscathed, and died in Manchester in 1886.
I have few clues about how my great-grandparents met and married, where they worked or lived. I know they lost three infants early and two sons died young. Frank Donnellan got sick in Cuba during the Spanish-American War and died at age 23 in 1898. Here’s a photo he sent back home of him and his fellow soldiers in Cuba.
Another son, Johnny, died young and only my grandmother and her sister, along with their mother, saw the dawn of the 20th century.
Frustrated that there was hardly any trace of the parents of a man who died while serving his country, I decided to branch out to the Donnellan family in Springfield, Massachusetts who I understood were related to the Manchester clan.
John and Anna Donnellan were brother and sister who lived in Springfield, Massachusetts all of their lives. They died there in the 1960s, both childless and unmarried. I know they stayed close to my grandmother Mary Jane Donnellan Peckenham because when I was born in 1955, they became my godparents and may be watching over me still.
John was born in 1895, the son of Thomas Francis Donnellan. After graduating high school he joined the Army, where he joined the Chemical Warfare Service in World War One.
After the war, he became an accountant, then spent 30 years as a postal clerk in Springfield. His sister, Anna, was born in 1899, and was a teacher, then a social worker in the department of public welfare. They had two other brothers, Edward, who became a prosecutor in Boulder, Colorado, and Thomas F. Jr. who started to join the priesthood then joined the welfare department as an interviewer in the 1930s.
Their father, Thomas F. Sr., was born in Thompsonville, Connecticut, in 1865, the son of John and Bridget Donnellan, who worked as a laborer in the carpet mill in town. Before John and Bridget moved to Thompsonville,in 1860, they had been living in East Hartford, Connecticut, just down the road from Manchester.
By 1870, John had moved his wife and three sons to Springfield, where the census takers noted that the 38-year-old had no occupation. His ten-year-old son Matthew worked in a “picture store,” while the younger ones were at school. John died by 1885 and his sons worked a series of jobs.
In 1893 Thomas F. Sr. went into the grocery and meat business with his brother Matthew, parting ways in 1899. By then, Thomas had married Bridget Teresa Burke and started a family. Thomas worked for the next ten or fifteen years as a bartender, starting at the Russell Hotel in 1902. In 1930, at the age of 65, he lived in a house valued at $9,000 and his occupation was listed as vulcanizer in a tire factory. His wife died that year.
Thomas F. Sr., would have been cousins to my grandmother, Mary Jane, but despite hours of combing through online genealogy records, I cannot prove how they were related, or even better, what part of Ireland they called home. Neither his daughter, Anna, or his son, John, or their two brothers, ever had children and there are no cousins or aunts for me to contact to pick their brains.
I remember the Donnellans because they were family and I knew them when they were alive. History has been less kind to the family, and after a century, their time on this earth is fading from memory.
It was a woman baselessly accused of being a witch who first caught my eye. I was tracing the Puritan ancestors of my great-great grandmother Sarah Sikes when I read about Mercy Marshfield. Mercy lived in Springfield, Massachusetts in the 1640s and 50s and her legal fight to clear her name marked her as a strong woman.
At the time of the trial against her accuser in 1649, Marshfield was a 45-year-old widow with three adult children and a son-in-law. The witchcraft accusation against her came from Mary Parsons, a Welsh immigrant woman in an unhappy marriage. The court of Thomas Pynchon, a gentleman who first settled Springfield, heard testimony about how Mary Parsons had slandered Marshfield, charging that she was known to be a witch when living in Windsor, Connecticut and that the devil had surely followed her to Springfield.
Springfield residents, like faithful Puritans throughout New England, believed that witches displayed their powers in obvious ways. No one stepped forward to accuse Marshfield of any acts of witchcraft and Pynchon found Parson guilty of slander, then offered her a choice of punishments: either lashes or the payment of three pounds or 20 bushels of corn. Mary Parsons chose to pay the fine.
It was not the last that Pynchon’s court heard of Parsons, who three years later accused her husband of witchcraft then was accused of witchcraft herself. Several neighbors testified against the Parsons, citing strange lights that jumped from clothing and a cow whose milk inexplicably dried up. Mercy Marshfield testifed that Hugh Parsons had cursed her and shortly after her daughter suffered from fits. Mary Parsonss was found innocent of witchcraft but confessed to having killed a child. She was sentenced to death for murder but died before the order could be carried out. Hugh was found guilty of witchcraft, then released after appeal.
Mercy Marshfield in Windsor
My ancestor, Mercy Marshfield, survived this drama but the stories led me to trace her roots in Windsor. There, it turned out, the entire Marshfield family had been abandoned by her husband and left to face the humiliation of the court seizing all of their property to pay off his sizeable debts. (Read more about Thomas Marshfield’s failed effort to enter the transatlantic shipping trade.)
When the Marshfield family left Windsor, the settlement was at least ten-years-old. The Marshfields were among the original settlers who walked from Dorchester, Massachusetts in 1636 to settle on the Connecticut River. Hardships and deprivations, along with grueling months of farming, clearing land and trying to survive with few manufactured goods, took their toll. Mercy had only been in the colony for a year, having sailed from England to reunite with her husband in 1635.
The fact that the Marshfields, without Thomas, managed to migrate to Springfield and start over, is a testament to their tenacity. Mercy’s son Samuel Marshfield and her son-in-law, John Dumbleton, became propertied members of Springfield society, serving as selectmen more than a dozen years each.
Names of My Ancestors
Puritans & Servants