The Man Who Loved Trees

Though I never knew him, I have felt particular affection for my great-grandfather, Thomas Francis Dolan, and it’s because of a story my mother told from her childhood in the aftermath of the great New England hurricane of September 21, 1938.

Thomas Dolan was born in County Roscommon on 8 December 1863, to John and Ann Dolan. He disembarked in the port of Boston, Massachusetts on 4 May 1874, when just 10 years old. [1] Because of the commonality of Irish immigrants named Dolan in Boston, details of his history remain unknown. To compound the issue, in 1890, Thomas married a 22-year-old domestic named Bridget Agnes Dolan, at St. Thomas Aquinas Church. [2]

As a young man, Thomas learned the trade of plastering and made a living for his young family that grew to include six children. Sometime before the 1910 census, he became an employee of the City of Boston. He spent the remainder of his working life as a gardener for the Parks Department. [3] [4]

The steady job enabled Thomas and Bridget to buy a house, at 108 Brown Avenue in the Roslindale neighborhood. When she was young, my mother fled there when she got into trouble or was irked by some perceived injustice at home. (Grandmother Bridget would give her a dusting cloth and set her to work.) Mom knew her grandfather brewed beer in the cellar and would disappear below to enjoy a drink in peace.

With the homes within walking distance, Mom recounted that her elderly grandfather routinely planted and maintained flowers outside their house, pushing his wheelbarrow of up a steep hill to get there, an act of love and joy.

After that awful, unexpected, September storm hit, the nation reeled. An account states, “At the Blue Hill Observatory in Milton, just south of Boston, winds reached 121 mph, with gusts nearing 200 mph, still the second highest winds ever recorded in the Bay State. Boston and the northern tier of Massachusetts were spared the worst of the storm.” [5]

Library of Congress | New England hurricane. Apple orchard in Connecticut. [6]

In addition to the lives, homes and businesses lost, so many trees were blown down that President Franklin Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration took two years and 15,000 workers to clear the destroyed trees. Paper mills processed them for nine years. [7]

One day following the hurricane, Thomas arrived with his wheelbarrow at my mother’s house to assess the damage to the yard. On discovering a large a tree pushed over, its roots torn from the earth, the 75-year-old braced himself and used his back to push the tree upright, before resettling its roots. Watching him from the window, eyes agog, were his grandchildren. The vivid impression he made on my mother has endured more than 80 years, as I pass it on.

In the 1940 census, two years after his herculean feat, Thomas Dolan was listed as “unable to work.” [8] He died in 1943 [9] of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, which seems oddly apt to me, for a man who so loved trees.

Sources / Citations

(1) Ancestry.com : Massachusetts, Petitions and Records of Naturalizations, 1906-1929. National Archives at Boston; Waltham, Massachusetts; ARC Title: Copies of Petitions and Records of Naturalization in New England Courts, 1939 – ca. 1942; NAI Number: 4752894; Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787-2004; Record Group Number: RG 85DescriptionDescription: Petitions, V 148, 1887-1888.

(2) AmericanAncestors.org : Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston Records, 1789-1900. New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2017. (From records supplied by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston) https://www.americanancestors.org/DB1708/i/53711/81/0.

(3) Ancestry.com : 1920 United States Federal Census. Census Place: Boston Ward 23, Suffolk, Massachusetts; Roll: T625_740; Page: 17B; Enumeration District: 541; Image: 38.

(4) Ancestry.com : 1930 United States Federal Census. Census Place: Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts; Roll: 956; Page: 26B; Enumeration District: 0502; Image: 1040.0.

(5) Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities; MassMoments : September 21, 1938 Hurricane Devastates New England; https://www.massmoments.org/moment-details/hurricane-devastates-new-england.html.

(6) Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Photograph Collection (Library of Congress); Dick, Sheldon, photographer; taken 1938 Sept.

(7) New England Historical Society; The Great 1938 Hurricane, A Once-In-A-Lifetime Storm; https://www.newenglandhistoricalsociety.com/great-1938-hurricane/

(8) Ancestry.com : 1940 United States Federal Census. Census Place: Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts; Roll: T627_1679; Page: 10B; Enumeration District: 15-681.

(9) Ancestry.com : Massachusetts, U.S., Death Index, 1901-1980. Rec. Date: 8 Jan 2016; 1941-1945; Columbare – Gardsfelt.

Silver Spoons for Seven Sibels

Married couples before the twentieth century had no choice but to produce a new baby about every other year. Despite high infant mortality, families with twelve or more children were not uncommon.

What about couples not “blessed” with children? Were they all ‘sad and unfulfilled,’ as common wisdom says? Some would have felt their lives lacking, certainly. Some would have relished their quieter, simpler home lives. Besides, married people, with and without offspring, routinely engaged with their in-laws, nieces, nephews, and neighbors’ children. Relatives routinely took in youngsters (temporarily or permanently) whose parents were sick or had died, or just to help out during hard times.

For businessmen connections were necessary to build and maintain wealth. Reading wills made by men (and women) of property, provides evidence that childless couples were neither isolated from fecund folks, nor lacking in ties to young people.

The union of Jonathan and Sibil (Tisdale) Slead (Slade)‘s is one such example from my colonial era cousins in Bristol County, Massachusetts. The pair wed in December 1725, [1] and lived in the town of Swansea.

Among other interests, Jonathan operated Slade’s Ferry across the Taunton River. [2] When he died in 1764, his will left land and property to kinsmen and “cousins” (most of whom were children of his deceased brothers). He also left a considerable estate to his beloved wife, Sibel. [2]

Historic Slade’s Ferry, circa 1909. When a bridge spanning the Taunton River opened to the public 1875-1876, the ferry service ended. | Author Unknown; Wikimedia Commons image.

When Sibel turned 70 years of age, she made her own will, “I Sibil Slead of Swanzey…” dated May 10 1771 and approved for probate August 3, 1779 (her death occurred somewhere between).

With the first item, Sibel earmarked five pounds in money to the Baptist Church of Christ. Next, she dealt with land given to her Slead (Slade) kinsmen. More bequests were made to in-laws, sisters and a brother, all of which is pretty regular stuff. Then, the next item caught my eye:

“I Give and Bequeath to Sibel Chase (b. 1740), daughter of Elisha Chase, and to
Sibel Tisdale (b. 1750), daughter of Antipas Tisdale, and to
Sibel Shearman (b. 1746), daughter of Salsbury Sherman, and to Sibel Winslow (b. 1748), daughter of George Winslow, and to Sibel Tisdale (b. 1758), daughter of Solomon Tisdale, and to Sibel Slead (b. ?) daughter of Benjamin Slead, and to Sibel Slead (b. 1765) daughter of Phillip Slead…”
[3]

Over a period of twenty-five years, seven babies were given Sibel’s name, beginning in 1740, the 15th year of the Slade’s marriage. The timing seems poignant, as Sibel was approaching her 40th year, suggesting that she may have shared with intimates, her belief that she wasn’t destined to have a child of her own. As the will demonstrates, Sibel had the sympathy and regard of seven sets of parents, al least. (It is possible, there were more little Sibels, but they did not survive to be included.)

Sibel’s parting gift to her namesakes was of the sort she might have left to a daughter of her own; she dictated:
“…to each of them six silver Tea spoons to be delivered to them by my Executor.”

American-made silver teaspoon, 1700-1800, from the Metropolitan Museum Of Art,
image donated to Wikimedia Commons.

Next Time: Some not-so-nice revelations from the wills of Jonathan & Sibel (Tisdale) Slade.

Sources

  1. “Rhode Island Town Marriages Index, 1639-1916,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:Q29P-7BW1 : accessed 16 August 2017); Swansea, Bristol, Massachusetts, United States, town halls, Rhode Island, and Rhode Island Historical Society, Providence; FHL microfilm 52.
  2. Taunton Daily Gazette; OUR VIEW: Crossing the Taunton — A history; https://www.tauntongazette.com/article/20110717/News/307179955
  3. Will of Jonathan Slead of Swanzy; NEHGS, AmericanAncestors.org (AmericanAncestors.org : accessed 16 Aug 2017), Slade. Rec. Date: 8 Apr 2016; Mayflower Descendant, The; Vol 46 (1996), page 40.
  4. Will of Sibil Slead; Ancestry.com (http://ancestry.com : accessed 2 Jul 2021); Ancestry.com. Massachusetts, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1635-1991. Rec. Date: 8 Jan 2016; Probate Records 1687-1916; Index, 1687-1926 (Bristol County, Massachusetts); Author: Massachusetts. Probate Court (Bristol County) : Vol 26, 1779-1781.