Sunday, March 29, 2009

John Washington Vermillion, 1857-1928

Someone I've tried to learn a little more about in my research is Blanche Branch's grandfather, John Washington (Wash) Vermillion. Blanche's father Walter Vermillion died when she was just five months old, and her other three grandparents died before she was born, so Wash was an important person in her life. She spoke of him with affection and reverence, and she attributed some of her life decisions (most notably being a Republican and a Methodist) to his influence. From a variety of sources I've been able to put together a partial chronology of his life.

According to his grave marker at the Hillside Cemetery in Purcell, Oklahoma, Wash was born on January 19, 1857, most likely in Lawrence County, Missouri (in the southwest part of the state--see map at left, click to enlarge). His parents were John H. Vermillion and Mary Smith. His mother was born in Tennessee, we know from the census, but we know little more about her except for some hunches. (It's hard to narrow down the possibilities for someone named Smith.) His father was born in Missouri, where the Vermillions had arrived in the 1830s from Ohio. (If you go back further, the Vermillions descend from a French protestant immigrant named Giles Vermillion who came to Maryland in 1698.)

In 1860, the census has John H. and Mary Vermillion with children Reuben (3), Wash (2) and Andrew (1) in Spring River Township. In this and subsequent censuses, John is listed as a farmer. Before Mary Vermillion died in 1888, she and John had 12 children in all, though some of them apparently didn't survive past childhood. (John would have another three with his second wife before his death in 1900.) In the 1870 census, 12-year-old Wash is listed with his parents and siblings; for Wash's "occupation," the entry reads "works on farm."

On November 25, 1875, when he was 18, Wash married Martha Burrow, a Missouri native who had lost both of her parents when she was about 5. (See marriage record above--click to enlarge.) I'll talk more about Martha in another post, but I'll note here that she was the great-granddaughter of the revival preacher William McGee and great-great-granddaughter of the Revolutionary spy Martha Bell. Wash and Martha soon got a piece of land to farm themselves: they were enumerated in the 1880 census in Aurora, the township just east of Spring River, with Martha and sons Walter (2) and Willie (5/12 yrs.). This squares with Blanche Branch's report that her father, Walter, was born in Aurora. Wash and Martha had five children in seven years: Walter Edward (1878), William R. (1879), Ira Monroe (1881), John (1883), and Cora (1885). It wasn't too long after Cora was born, apparently, that Martha Burrow died.

I have never run across any cause of death or even a date of death. One clue is an undated photograph taken of Wash and his five children without their mother (at left; click to enlarge). Bearing in mind that Walter (standing at left) and Cora (in front of Walter) were seven years apart, I'd guess that they might be 10 and 3, which would mean the picture was taken in 1888. If so, Wash found himself widowed with five children by the time he was 30 years old.

It would come as no surprise that he would want to marry again. And Susannah (usually called Susan) Bassett Lamar, the woman he married, was probably motivated as well. A year older than Wash, she was the widow of one William Henry Lamar and had two teenaged daughters. They probably married in 1894. (There may have been another wife between Martha and Susan: the 1910 Census reported that Wash had been married three times, Susan twice. But I haven't yet been able to track down any other evidence of another marriage.)

Around 1889, Wash took his family to Indian Territory, where he established a farm in the vicinity of Wayne in McClain County (see map at left). A 1900 newspaper account of his son Ira's murder trail (more on that here, here, here, and here) says that the family had been in the area for 11 years, so they would have arrived in Indian Territory just as Oklahoma Territory was opening to white settlement across the Canadian River.

The 1900 census shows Wash and Susan and four of his children in the Chickasaw Nation of Indian Territory, near Wayne in McClain County. His son Willie had died the year before at the age of 20; he is buried in Purcell.

While still mourning his son Willie, Wash and the family faced another tragedy in 1900 when 18-year-old Ira, drunk, lassoed Joseph Nemecek and dragged him to his death. In reporting on the sensational crime, the local press took pains to say that Wash was respected in the community and lauded him for standing behind their son throughout his trial. (According to prison records, Wash would be Ira's most faithful correspondent during his 13 years in prison, writing to him nearly 200 times.)

The episode must have been difficult for Wash, and perhaps it contributed to the family's decision to move to the state of Washington in 1901. Wash and Susan, daughter Cora, and son Walter took up farming in a township called Mesa in Franklin County (see map at left: Mesa is the small encircled red spot within Franklin County). This is an arid country covered with sagebrush. Blanche Branch's mother Mollie Jicha went up to Washington to join Walter and marry him in 1902 or thereabouts; Blanche always said that a result of her time there, her mother couldn't stand the smell of sagebrush.

(Left: sagebrush on the Snake River in Franklin County, Washington, 1800s.)

Blanche always spoke of the Washington venture as a sort of failed experiment. It wasn't long until most of the Vermillions returned to Indian Territory. Wash and Susan and Walter and Mollie were back in Wayne by 1906. It's not clear whether Wash's son John ever moved to Washington, and Ira spent all that time in, um, Leavenworth. Only Cora, who married Frank Lamb in 1906/7, stayed in Washington, learned to farm the country fruitfully, and begat a large flock of Lambs who are still in the area today.

In 1907, Wash lost a second son: Walter died from tuberculosis, leaving a wife, Mollie, and children John (4) and Blanche (five months).

On May 5, 1910, Wash and Susan were recorded in the census as living in the town of Wayne. Wash was not listed as a farmer; instead he had no occupation and the explanation "own income." Blanche said that he owned wheat combines. And in the years 1910 to 1912, Wash must have been busy with some sorts of ventures in southwest Missouri and northeast Oklahoma, as some of his letters to Ira have return addresses from towns in those areas.

At the same time, something happened to Wash's marriage to Susan. Because in 1911, Ira began getting letters from another Mrs. J. W. Vermillion, a woman named Carey (I've also seen it spelled Cary) who was only 26 years old (about his daughter's age). I had always assumed that Wash and Susan's marriage ended in Susan's death, but I saw an online source recently that suggested that Susan died in Purcell in 1917. So that one may have ended in divorce.

In 1912, Wash and Carey moved to Oklahoma City, where Blanche said he owned a furniture store. Some time between 1914 and 1920, Wash's third son John died, leaving a wife and a son, Leonard.

I don't know much about Wash's later years, except that he seems to have lived in Wayne during his last decade. He died in 1928, when Blanche was 21. Wash lost so many people by the time he reached his three score and ten. He outlived his first wife and three of his four sons. His surviving son Ira lived in Washington and Arizona after his release from prison in 1914 (and did another stint in prison for counterfeiting), and his daughter Cora and her large family were far away in Washington. Though he had his young wife for company, Wash must have been surprised and saddened to be so bereft of family in his old age. I would think that he would have especially valued Blanche, John, and Leonard, his nearby grandchildren. It's no wonder Blanche remembered him so fondly.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Brush With Abe

It's Abraham Lincoln's Bicentennial year, so here's the only thing I know about how Lincoln's life intersected with our family's (not counting that whole Civil War that he won). It's not much, but, you know, it's Lincoln.

Cal Jones's great-grandmother (father's mother's mother) was a woman named Salina Hash (you just have to say it with an Arkansas accent), who married Ambrose Clark. Salina was born in Warren County, Tennessee, to Alvin (Josh) Hash and Esther Drake Hash in 1823; family legend holds that her parents moved to Illinois in 1825 so that they might free the slaves that they owned. Whatever the reason, we know from the census that in 1830 the family was living on a farm in Sangamon County, Illinois—the same county to which the young Abraham Lincoln came in 1830. The Hashes lived there until 1836, when they moved to Washington County, Arkansas, where Salina met Ambrose Clark.

I heard the Hashes' Lincoln story from Marian Carter Ledgerwood, a Jones/Shumate cousin who is a well-published family historian. The details of the story vary with the teller, but it was set down in writing by Alvin and Esther's youngest son, Benjamin Franklin Hash. He wrote of his parents: "Abraham Lincoln surveyed their land. He made a mark in the door of the cabin so as to tell when it was twelve o'clock." Others fill in details by explaining that Lincoln was helping out after Esther complained to him that she didn't have a clock.

It is well documented that Lincoln worked as a surveyor in Sangamon County starting in 1833, so this tale is certainly plausible. Too bad the Hashes didn't know what was to become of Lincoln--they might have taken that door with them when they moved to Arkansas.

For what it's worth, Salina and her husband Ambrose Clark ended up being Union sympathizers when the Civil War broke out nearly 30 years later. They took in a wounded Union soldier named Charles Matthew (Matt) Jones after a battle near Fayetteville, and the story goes that Matt fell in love with their raven-haired daughter, Esther Clark. He came back and married her, and they became the parents of Silas Jones and the grandparents of Cal Jones. So I guess some of us have Lincoln's war to thank for our existence!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Jichas' final resting places

I wrote a couple of years ago about George and Kate Jicha, Blanche Branch's grandparents, who emigrated from Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic) in about 1881 and took part in the Oklahoma Land Run in 1889. George died in December of that year, and Kate died in 1897.

I knew already that George was buried at Maguire-Fairview Cemetery, a secular cemetery east of Noble (see photo below). But I didn't know where Kate was buried until I saw online a photo (left, click to enlarge) of her grave marker, contributed by a third cousin. She is at St. Joseph's Catholic Church Cemetery in Norman, which is within the I.O.O.F. Cemetery north of the city. If you remember how she traveled five thousand miles, pioneered two prairie homesteads, and raised seven children, the words "At Rest" on her stone take on a little extra meaning.

George and Kate were Catholic, of course; their children, as far as I know, all became Protestants (though some of their descendants today are Catholic). At first I thought it was curious that Kate had chosen a Catholic cemetery for herself but not for her husband. But then I remembered when they died: I think it's entirely possible that a Catholic cemetery had not yet been established in their area when George died, just eight months after the Land Run.

Anyway, if you're ever in the area and want to give them a shout, here's how to get there:
Maguire-Fairview Cemetery
St. Joseph's Catholic Church Cemetery

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Crank and Walty

Donald Rumsfeld said you go to war with the army you have, not the army you wish to have. That's the way one should approach family history, too, but I sometimes find myself devoting time and attention to the ancestors I wish I had. I'm not the only one: in years of poking around the internet, I've found wishful and quite erroneous information shoehorning famous people into our family. There was the hopeful family tree that imagined that Daniel Boone's sister was an ancestor of Nannie Shumate, and another that substituted one brother for another in order to bring Mayflower passenger John Alden into Silas Jones's line.

I don't want to make that mistake here, but I can't help telling you about an ancestor that I covet for our tree. George Lamberton was one of the earliest settlers of my adopted hometown of New Haven, Connecticut, which is reason enough for me to want to make that connection. But Lamberton was also central to a legendary episode in the early history of the New Haven Colony -- one that was immortalized in a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Lamberton apparently died at sea in 1646 while captaining a "Great Shippe" that the New Haven colonists had loaded with goods bound for England, hoping to reverse their colony's failing fortunes through profits from the trip. The ship was never seen again. Well, sort of. More about that in a moment.

First I'll tell you a little about where he fits in: I've told you before about Ambrose Clark, the great-grandfather of Cal Jones. Ambrose ended up in Arkansas but was born in Ohio to parents from New England -- the only New Englanders I've found in my family tree. I told you in my last post a little about Ambrose's mother, Marcy Humes. All we know about the origins of his father, John Clark, was that he was born around 1783 in Vermont and married Marcy in Middlesex, Vermont, in 1810.

But I have reason to believe that John ties into a family of Clarks from Connecticut who are descended from George Lamberton. I'm not the only one to think so; a Clark historian in Vermont has also made the connection. But there is no proof and at least one "missing link" between the families. I'll explain all that at the end. Let's get back to the tale of the sea.

So the New Haven Colony (which later merged with Connecticut) was founded in 1638 by English Puritans who had first planned to settle in Massachusetts, but who decided that that colony was both too crowded and insufficiently pious for their purposes. They came instead to a beautiful natural harbor on Long Island Sound, inhabited lightly by friendly Indians, and set about building a colony that would operate strictly under biblical law. They also hoped to make a lot of money, but that proved easier said than done. After some initial attempts at trade and agriculture didn't work out so well, they decided in 1646 that they needed to make a big score. They had a large ship built to sail to England and carry all the crops and merchandise they could produce.

The ship, built in Rhode Island, was the first oceangoing vessel built in the colonies, and it was apparently of dubious seaworthiness. So the man they chose to be its captain. George Lamberton, was either brave or optimistic or burdened with low foresight. George, a former London merchant, was 42 years old; he had come to New Haven with his wife Margaret and four daughters in 1638. The Lambertons had three more daughters before his voyage. (Their names are worth noting: Elizabeth, Hannah, Hope, Deliverance, Mercy, Desire, Obedience.)

George had been involved earlier in another scheme to improve the colony's fortunes: he led a 1641 excursion to Delaware to try to set up an outpost of New Haven for trade, but the party was chased out by the Swedes who had settled there. Along the way, he is said to have purchased the land that later became Phildaelphia from the local Indians -- when he sailed for England, he supposedly had a deed for this purchase with him.

The Great Shippe left New Haven Harbor in January 1646 (as depicted in the painting at left. Sorry it's so small--I'll try to find a bigger one). Colonists had to cut a path for the ship through the ice in the harbor. In addition to Lamberton and the cargo, there were passengers aboard who were going back to England, either permanently or to visit. More than a year went by without word of the ship, which never arrived in England. After a while, the New Haven colonists gave up hoping for their return. Being good Puritans who believed that God had predestined everything, they did not pray for the ship's miraculous return; instead, they asked that God let them know what had happened to the ship and its passengers. The answer came in an apparition in the harbor one afternoon.

Here I should stop trying to tell the story and let Longfellow do it. His 1858 poem, reproduced below, was based on an account by Cotton Mather in 1702.

The Phantom Ship

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

In Mather's Magnalia Christi,
Of the old colonial time,
May be found in prose the legend
That is here set down in rhyme.

A ship sailed from New Haven,
And the keen and frosty airs,
That filled her sails at parting,
Were heavy with good men's prayers.

O Lord! if it be thy pleasure--
Thus prayed the old divine--
To bury our friends in the ocean,
Take them, for they are thine!

But Master Lamberton muttered,
And under his breath said he,
This ship is so crank and walty,
I fear our grave she will be!

And the ship that came from England,

When the winter months were gone,
Brought no tidings of this vessel,
Nor of Master Lamberton.

This put the people to praying
That the Lord would let them hear
What in His greater wisdom
He had done with friends so dear.

And at last their prayers were answered:--
It was in the month of June,
An hour before the sunset
Of a windy afternoon,

When, steadily steering landward,
A ship was seen below,
And they knew it was Lamberton, Master,
Who sailed so long ago.

On she came, with a cloud of canvas,
Right against the wind that blew.
Until the eye could distinguish
The faces of the crew.

Then fell her straining topmasts,
Hanging tangled in the shrouds,
And her sails were loosened and lifted,
And blown away like clouds.

And the masts, with all their rigging,
Fell slowly, one by one,
And the hulk dilated and vanished,
As a sea-mist in the sun!

And the people who saw this marvel
Each said unto his friend,
That this was the mould of their vessel,
And thus her tragic end.

And the pastor of the village
Gave thanks to God in prayer,
That, to quiet their troubled spirits,
He had sent this Ship of Air.

Here's a prose version of the Phantom Ship story. And if you really want to go deep into the story, the original telling begins on page 83 of this book from 1702 by Cotton Mather.

So these Puritans could rest easier knowing for sure that their friends and family had died in a shipwreck. One of the lost was the wife of Deputy Governor Stephen Goodyear (ancestor of the man who invented vulcanized rubber). The widowed Margaret Lamberton married the widowed Stephen Goodyear a year later.

What makes me think we might be descendants of George Lamberton? It's all in the name Ambrose. George and Margaret's daughter Hope married Samuel Ambrose, and their daughter Abigail married John Clark. The Clarks ended up in Middletown, Connecticut, up the road from New Haven, and they had a son and several other descendants named Ambrose Clark. If some of these Clarks moved to Vermont -- which is perfectly plausible, as there was much emigration from Connecticut to Vermont in the 18th century -- our John Clark could be one of their descendants, which would explain the origin of "our" Ambrose's name.

The line, with a gaping hole, might look something like this:

George Lamberton (1604–1646) m. Margaret Lewen
Hope Lamberton (ca. 1636–ca. 1700) m. Samuel Ambrose
Abigail Ambrose (1666–1732) m. John Clark
Ambrose Clark (1696–1764) m. Elizabeth Ward
Ambrose Clark (1723–? ) m. Mary Kilbourn
[Missing Link]
John Clark (1783–1850) m. Marcy Humes
Ambrose Clark (1818–1896) m. Salina Hash
Esther Caroline Clark (1848–1922) m. Charles Matthew Jones
Silas Matthew Jones (1871–1940) m. Nancy Lucinda Shumate
Sherman Calaway Jones (1895–1967) m. Clara Paxton

I don't know if we'll ever fill in that missing link. You'd think it would be hard to learn anything new about people who lived 250 years ago, but I hold out hope that someone has information in a family bible or a trunk in the attic that will clear all this up.

There's a classic old map (left, click on it to enlarge) showing the land held by settlers in the nine-block grid of New Haven in 1641. George Lamberton's tract, in the lower left square near the red letter "C," is right across the street from our favorite Chinese restaurant. I think of him whenever we have sauteed string beans.

Marcy, Marcy, Marcy!

A while back (and it has been a while -- guess I've been distracted), I introduced you to the Joneses' only known New England ancestry, via one Ambrose Clark, whose parents John and Marcy were married in Vermont in 1810. I'll follow up on John Clark's family in the next post, but this time I'll fill you in on the knowledge we have -- sketchy and sometimes contradictory as it is -- of Ambrose's mother, Marcy Humes. She was apparently born in Douglas, Massachusetts, and moved up to Vermont with her brother, Ezra Humes. It's Marcy's family that connects by marriage to a lot of storied old New Englanders such as John Adams, John Quincy Adams, and John Alden (the Pilgrim who, as Longfellow told it, was urged to "speak for himself" by Priscilla Mullins).

Marcy's father, Samuel Humes, and her mother, Marcy Thompson, were cousins, both descended from a Thayer family that settled in Mendon, Massachusetts. Marcy Thompson's grandmother was Mercy Thayer (so I guess the name Marcy is a corruption of the very Puritan name Mercy), and Samuel Humes's mother was Martha Thayer. Mercy was the granddaughter and Martha the great-granddaughter of Ferdinando Thayer (I love that name and have no clue how a 17th-century Englishman acquired it), who emigrated from England to Braintree, Massachusetts, and was among the first settlers of Mendon. Mendon is only 40 miles from Boston, but in the 1660s it was a wilderness. The town was attacked and burned by Indians during King Philip's war in the 1670s.

(Left: a monument to the founders of Mendon, Massachusetts. Ferdinando Thayer is the first name listed.)

There is extensive documentation of more Massachusetts ancestors of Marcy's, but as I said, the various internet sources sometimes contradict themselves. Some of the trees have her ancestors going back to Cambridge, Massachusetts, as early as 1634. If I can ever sort out all the contradictory claims and find some proof for the lineage, this line would be our best chance of reaching that holy grail of American genealogical snootiness, a Mayflower ancestor. But in truth, I'd rather find some Native American ancestry -- as Will Rogers said, "My ancestors didn't come over in the Mayflower; they met the boat."