Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Context is king

Great Comet of 1680 over Rotterdam by Verschuier
The most common feedback I get about In Search of Barnabas Horton is how much readers enjoy the historical context I created. Even as I started research on Barnabas, I knew I would develop a parallel research track to include his environment. Our ancestors didn’t live in a vaccuum and the vast majority left no personal papers. An understanding of the cultural, economic, and political environment in which they lived brings our ancestors to life in a way that a dry recitation of dates cannot. Context not only tells us what likely happened, but gives us an idea as to why.

Below is a sampling of successful historical contexts from In Search of Barnabas Horton.

Baking Trade
Researching this context was a natural fit for me. Not only do I enjoy baking with yeast, but many years ago I spent time in France at the home of a good friend whose father baked bread and pastries professionally. Having observed a professional baker at work, I found it relatively easy to situate Barnabas in the trade. How years of working heavy loads of dough, inhaling moist flour particles, and firing ovens took their physical toll. Nighttime work disrupted marital life. But in order to explain why Barnabas broke the law or why his apprentice likely stole from him, I needed to understand the assize of bread. I needed to understand how the guild economy functioned. Once I discovered the Langton family’s milling background, knowledge of the changing relationship between bakers and millers during this time enabled me to speculate on why Barnabas chose to wed Mary Langton over other available marriage partners.  

Frontier Life
Living museums, like Plimoth Plantation, surround visitors with sights and sounds of early colonial times. Like the baking trade, I found researching Barnabas’s frontier life fun. Some of my favorite school trips had involved saw pit demonstrations and witch trial reenactments. Complex questions soon emerged, however, that knowing how to churn butter could not answer. With a life expectancy of roughly 50 years, Barnabas migrated with the mindset that he would not likely live long in New England. So why move at such an “old” age? [1] Why did he take on so much civic responsibility? What could be said of interpersonal relationships among Southold’s townspeople? What would original town records reveal? As it turned out—plenty.  

Enclosure & Primogeniture
I resisted delving into the English enclosure process and hereditary laws, including primogeniture. They struck me as tedious, complicated, and irrelevant to Barnabas. When an expert reader pointed out weak spots in Chapter One concerning these issues, I regrouped to learn definitions such as entailment and dower rights. Eventually, I gained confidence to speculate why Barnabas’s great-great-great-grandmother, Anne, wrote two wills months apart, to evaluate the impact of Libbeus Horton’s land sales on his heirs, and to suggest why Barnabas himself eschewed primogeniture. Arguably, there is more to explore within these generations in Leicestershire.  

Not every event will fit your timeline, however, or answer your questions. One historical event I tried to include but ultimately omitted, happened the year Barnabas died—the Great Comet of 1680. A global phenomenon, the comet’s sighting triggered days of fasting and humiliation across New England. Puritan ministers believed earthly events were direct messages from God to men. Calamities like King Philip’s War or a poor harvest were “proof” of God’s displeasure. Successes were “proof” of His approval. What better sign of Barnabas’s unruly children’s moral lapses than a brilliant comet blazing across the sky, portending a great misfortune soon to befall them? Unfortunately, Barnabas died five months before the Great Comet was sighted in New York.

City of Albany to Anthony Brockholls,
Acting Governor of Province of NY; Munsell's
Annals of Albany Vol.6:95.
Note: "ye Domine" = the pastor (Dutch).

Any family genealogist can add historical context to his or her findings. Start with a simple search at Google and, browse your local library’s history shelves, or search the online library catalog of a large university, like Columbia or Cornell. Then see if your local library can request those books through their inter-library loan program. Take time to read footnotes and bibliographies for new source material. Check out the digital image collection at the Library of Congress website.[2] Follow the trail of breadcrumbs, but stop when you feel overwhelmed. Context should be interesting, fun, and, most importantly, relevant.

[1] “Plantations are for young men that can endure all pains and hunger.”Robert Reyce to John Winthrop, taken from John Winthrop: America’s Forgotten Founding Father by Francis J. Bremer (Oxford University Press, 2005), 155.

[2] Check out their wonderful series of black and white photos of the Old House in Cutchogue here.

Monday, February 1, 2016

At Long Last! Barnabas's Signature

Over the course of writing this book, I spent a lot of time pondering whether or not Barnabas knew how to write, including penning his own name. I knew it wouldn’t change my opinion of him. He would remain a resourceful and pragmatic tradesman with or without this particular skill. Curiosity drove me. Several people pointed out that his signature regularly appeared in Southold’s town record books. What better reason to sit at a microfilm reader at the Southold Free Library for hours?[1] After reading and comparing dozens of pages, I concluded that Barnabas took oral depositions which were then recorded by the town clerk. A dead end. 

A portion of the Southold Town Records Liber B, page 12,
transcribed in the published record book Vol 1: 337.
" which we underwritt do sett to our hands:
Thomas Mapes, Charles Glover, Barnabas Hortton,
 John Booth, John Budd.
 Entred uppon Record by me Richard Terry Recordr  febar: 12 1667"

A portion of the Southold Town Records Liber B, pages 126–131,
not included in published Volume 1.
"Deposed the day & yeare above written [1658]
before us Barnabas Horton & Thomas Moore} Constables of Southold"

I then considered probate documents and came across another Barnabas "signature." This time as one of five witnesses to Thomas Terry's will, written in 1671. Inconclusive again. The signatures I kept finding were too dissimilar to have been written by the same man, even across time.

A portion of Thomas Terry's will, New York Public Library.

The only original document guaranteed to have his personal signature or mark would be Barnabas's own last will and testament. Did it still exist? The search was on.

In late fall of 2014 while randomly googling on my computer, I came across an image of a blueish, carbon copy of a typed transcription of Barnabas’s will. A handwritten note in the margin said the transcription was made by the last known owner of the document.[2] Several mouse clicks later, I had the names and addresses of the owner’s last known family members. I carefully crafted a letter explaining my book and interest in Barnabas’s will. I dropped the letters in the corner mailbox with the expectations of someone flinging a message in a bottle into the vast ocean. How long would it take to get a response—if ever? How on earth did genealogists accomplish as much as they did before the internet?

I heard back within a month. My postal inquiry had triggered an exchange of emails among the four children of the will’s last owner—Peg (97), Allan (93), Alice (90), and Betty (87). The older siblings remembered the will while the younger ones did not, yet they all agreed that the treasured document was likely put in safekeeping at the family’s summer retreat in northern New Hamphsire. What an exciting addition to Barnabas’s biography! When could I see it? Mindful of my impending publication date, the siblings tried to brainstorm a solution, but access to the house was already blocked by deep snow and would remain impenetrable until the spring thaw. I knew I couldn’t rewrite the text and related footnote without significantly altering page numbers which would, in turn, delay publication and increase my expenses. With mixed emotions, I decided that any information revealed by the will would have to wait for a second edition.  

I made two trips to New Hampshire in the summer of 2015, after the book’s publication. The first trip included a lively lunch with Allan and Betty, swapping stories and Barnabas lore. The second was to their family homestead for a viewing of the will. I missed meeting Peg, but Alice and her family were wonderful hosts, and graciously allowed me to take lots of photos to share with Horton cousins everywhere. (Once again, I'd like to express my thanks to Peg, Allan, Alice, Betty and their families!) 

The will is beautiful. Cramped text fills one side of parchment. It's smaller than the two copies I had previously come across.[3] It appears to have been framed in the early 20th century by a professional archivist and is stored in a closet away from any light source, perhaps an added layer of preservation in the days before UV-filter glass. A reverse-negative facsimile was created and placed on the protective cover. The text reads like the copy entered into the Suffolk County court minute book at Riverhead, NY.

At long last, in front of me was Barnabas’s signature—a little shaky perhaps, but genuine.

[1] They are now available online at the website of Southold’s Town Clerk (click here).
[2] The owner of the will was named, but out of consideration for the family’s privacy, I won’t reveal it.
[3] One entered into the Suffolk County Court of Sessions minute book in Riverhead, New York. The other is held by the Suffolk County Historical Society, also in Riverhead.  

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Original Burial or Civic Reburial—Do You Really Know Where Your Ancestors are Laid to Rest?

President Theodore Roosevelt dedicates
the Capt. John Underhill Memorial,
Oyster Bay, NY, 1908
Photo by Wikipedia

I’ve found King Richard III to be more fascinating in death than in life—the improbable discovery of his remains under a parking lot; information pulled from his skeletal DNA (including a nonpaternity event); a reexamination of his tarnished legacy; and debates over his final resting place. I devoured it all. The timing of Richard III’s discovery just as my focus on Barnabas Horton kicked into high gear felt more than a coincidence. It was providence. Like the forensic examiners painstakingly dissecting King Richard’s remains, I couldn’t let Barnabas rest in peace. I wanted to poke and prod. What secrets could his burial site reveal under relentless scrutiny?  

Puritan gravestone iconography was an obvious place to start,[1] but Barnabas’s stone bears text only—no hollow-eyed skull, no pudgy-cheeked cherub. I moved on to funeral customs. Did you know that Puritans sent gloves as an invitation to a funeral and afterwards distributed mourning rings to family members and high-status individuals? Interesting, yes, but I found no evidence of these norms in Southold. Digging up the Dead: A History of Notable American Reburials by Michael Kammen altered my approach. I would stop looking in seventeenth-century records and focus on more recent records for clues regarding Southold's Old Burying Ground in general, and Barnabas's in particular.

Kammen points out that “[a] widespread desire to ensure the perpetuity of graves dates only from the 1790s and early 1800s…. The related practice of visiting graves to pay respects…emerged gradually and became customary only as late as the 1840s (17).” The practice of “[e]xhuming and relocating remains,” he continues,”had rather little connection with the prevailing Protestant eschatology and everything to do with the needs of the living (20).” Driven by patriotism (both national and regional), ancestor worship, and the commercial development of privately-owned cemeteries, “Reburial was quite literally a civic occasion…rather than an ecclesiastical event. Principal speakers devoted their eulogies or remarks to the individual’s historical importance, not his divine destiny (21-22).”

Colonial public figures, originally buried in unmarked graves who were later reburied with civic ceremony, include Miles Standish (of Mayflower fame), George Whitefield (an Anglican preacher well-known in the American colonies), and Roger Williams (founder of Rhode Island). Self-proclaimed Governor of New York, Jacob Leisler, was hanged for treason in 1691, exonerated in 1695, and re-interred with appropriate pomp and circumstance soon afterwards, Examples of civic reburials (real or symbolic) on Long Island are easy to find: Honorable Mahlon Dickerson erected a marble obelisk to commemorate his Southold ancestors in 1851;[2] Nathaniel Sylvester received his memorial on nearby Shelter Island in 1884; Reverend Epher Whitaker spearheaded the effort to erect Founders Monument in 1890;[3] President Theodore Roosevelt dedicated an over-sized monument to Captain John Underhill in 1908, in Oyster Bay; and ancestors of Reverend John Youngs outfitted his grave site with a heraldic slab in 1935.[4]

Dickerson Monument
(erected 1851)

Reverend Young's 20th-century coat of arms

I believe Reverend Whitaker masterminded much of today's Old Burying Ground in Southold, particularly its ancient and historic sections. His ministry in Southold (1851–1891) began with the dedication of the Dickerson momument and ended with the Founders Monument. In his own words, the “cemetery…doubled in extent” under his watch.[5] He likely supervised the relocation of three tablestones from Orient to the hamlet of Southold,[6] an undertaking driven more by local patriotism than religious necessity. Today, a wide array of people visit the cemetery, prompting Southold's foremost cemetery docent, Melissa Andruski, to tailor her tours of the Old Burying Ground to specific interests—tourists, local adults, and school children.

From the Peconic Bay Shopper, Ocrober 2011
Unfortunately, time has been unforgiving to the ancient markers. Three hundred years of wind and rain have worn smooth horizontal markers made of soft, red sandstone. Those carved from durable slate are cracking and splitting. All are susceptible to invasive lichens and discoloration from air-borne pollutants. A large crack threatens to break Barnabas's tablestone in two from repeated freezing and thaws. More photos are included in Appendix III of my book (My thanks to Fred Andrews for the use of his photos, below).


Fortunately, Reverend Whitaker's work has been taken up by a group of volunteers dedicated to restoring and preserving Southold's Old Burying Ground. Cemetery Director Jane Andrews has written a new guide with lush photographs and short biographies of notable "residents." Two years ago, Jane and her committee set aside $45,000 to fund Phase I of a preservation initiative—hiring a professional conservator to photograph, catalog and evaluate hundreds of markers in preparation of Phase II—securing foundation grants, training volunteers to clean and stabilize less damaged stones, and hiring professionals for more complicated repairs. They were awarded a $22,500 matching grant from the Robert D.L. Gardiner Foundation and have planned fundraisers to maximize this award. I encourage readers to consider making a tax-deductible contribution to this multi-year preservation effort before year's end. Checks (payable to "The Old Burying Ground") may be sent to Southold Presbyterian Church, P.O. Box 787, Southold, NY, 11971 or with a credit card by clicking here.

Did my research reveal anything new about Barnabas's tablestone? In short, no. I can offer only personal opinion rather than fact. But since this is a blog, that's okay. I'd guess there's a 50-50 chance that Barnabas's remains are buried beneath his tablestone. The town formally hired a grave digger six years before he died, but burials on private home lots were common during this time (more so perhaps, the greater distance one lived away from town). The slate slab was likely purchased and inscribed in the mid- to late-18th century, by a son or grandson of Jonathan Horton, who died in 1707. This opinion stems from two elements on the stone. First, the inclusion of the honorific Mr. By strict 17th-century, socioeconomic standards, Barnabas—a baker—would never have been considered for this title. By the 18th-century, however, its use had become a more widespread term of respect. Second, there appears to be enough space left on the slab for one more inscription. Perhaps the family member who commissioned the stone did so not only to honor his immediate ancestors, but in the hope that his name would one day be eternally linked with theirs. The economic depredations brought on by the American Revolution likely preserved this emptiness. Patriot Southolders, not killed in battle, fled to Connecticut in droves, while occupying British forces commandeered every commodity to supply their war effort—livestock and grain filled the bellies of their soldiers in New York City, felled North Fork trees kept those same British soldiers warm in winter, and plundered metals lined British officers' pockets or armed their weapons. Legend has it that the lead tablet missing from Reverend Hobart's tablestone was taken during the American Revolution and melted down to make bullets. The area remained economically depressed until 1844 when the railroad finally reached the North Fork, connecting the eastern village of Greenport to the city of Brooklyn.

I end with a toast given at Southold's Bicentennial Celebration, fitting for its Old Burying Ground residents: Engrave deep on memory's tablet their virtues, bury deep their faults and errors!

Well, hopefully not too deep. 

[1] Check out the wonderful Farber Collection of colonial gravestones for a large range of styles across time. You can narrow a search by location (including Southold, Cutchogue, Greenport, Mattituck, East Hampton, and Southampton), year, or imagery. Unfortunately, no horizontal tablestones from Southold were photographed.  
[2] Epher Whitaker, History of Southold, Long Island: Its First Century, (Southold, NY: 1881), 53.
[3] Herbert C. Whitaker, New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, Volume 49 (April 1918), 119.
[4] Wayland Jefferson, “The Old Cemetery” in Long Island Traveler, October 24, 1935.
[5] "The First Church of Southold's 250 Years [A sermon by its pastor, October 19, 1890]," Brooklyn Historical Society, Epher Whitaker Papers [ARC 286], Folder #3.
[6] Jacqueline Dinan, In Search of Barnabas Horton: From English Baker to Long Island Proprietor, 1600–1680, 309.  

Saturday, November 7, 2015

A Portrait

One of the most enjoyable tasks of self-publishing Barnabas’s biography was choosing an image for the book’s cover. The graphic team I hired created several compelling options to consider. While they did the hard work, I sat back, relaxed, and had fun choosing the winner. Then, having decided on a front cover, I realized that there was no stopping the transformation of my electronic manuscript into a printed book. It didn't matter that I had zero sales, I would soon be a published author! But why use an abstract profile of a Puritan rather than a clearly visible face? One reader sent me an email asking this very question—why didn’t I include an image of Barnabas Horton in the book? She was referring to the cameo depicted below.

1878 commemorative postcard 

J.G.Horton NOT Barnabas Horton
The answer is that I deliberately chose to exclude this image in order to squash yet another Barnabas myth. The picture, well-known to many Horton descendants, is not of the immigrant Barnabas, but of Jonathan Goldsmith Horton. Look at the image above and you will clearly see Jonathan’s initials, J. G. Horton, where the lapels of his suit overlap.  (I assume the artist’s initials are to the left).

Although I knew that Jonathan G. (1789–1872) was the last owner of Barnabas’s wood-framed home, I found another piece of information about him more intriguing. George F. Horton reported in his Chronicles (1876) that Jonathan Goldsmith Horton had had Barnabas’s tablestone relettered in the early 1800s. In the hopes of finding direct evidence of this, I spent an afternoon at the Queens Borough Public Library reading through a manuscript collection called Horton Family Miscellaneous Papers (1828-1865). It purported to include documents relating to the administration of the estate of Captain Jonathan Horton by his sons, Jonathan G. and Renssalear. I thought Jonathan G. may have used the occasion of his father’s death (ca. 1830) to spruce up the family’s many grave sites, including the immigrant patriarch’s.

Unfortunately, while archival tidbits brought “Uncle Goopie[1]” and his siblings to life, the collection shed no light on the relettering of Barnabas’s slate tablestone. Rather, I left the library thinking that Jonathan G. was either a tightwad or too impoverished to consider such an outlay. Documents had revealed that Captain Jonathan’s widow took her sons Jonathan G. and Renssalear to court when they stopped paying her monthly allowance stipulated in their late father’s will.

So for the time being, the circumstances of the tablestone's relettering remain unknown but the well-known face now has a name—Jonathan Goldsmith Horton.   

[1] “Uncle Goopie” was a term often used by Southold Town Historian, Wayland Jefferson, for Jonathan G.  in various newspaper articles he wrote during the 1930s and 1940s.