The Five Wives of Benjamin Franklin Hathaway – Part 2: Ann Maria Bliffins

Benjamin Franklin Hathaway found his first bride in his hometown. It is tempting to think, having set himself up in the world, he returned to Freetown to claim his childhood sweetheart. However, Ann Maria Bliffins (Bliffens / Blivens) was 20 years old and Benjamin at 26, had been away for about 10 years, making a longstanding romantic relationship doubtful.

Ann’s girlhood

Ann was the youngest child of Anson and Rachel (Read) Bliffins. They married in 1796 and produced sons right away (Anson Sheffied and William Read). Their good fortune was short lived. Over the next eight years, three girls were born, – and died (Rebecca, Mary Ann and Mary).

Rachel gave birth in 1808 to another son, Thomas Valentine. He thrived. Rachel likely reconciled herself with the belief daughters weren’t part of the Lord’s plan for her. Six years passed. In May 1814, as all sorts of tender things sprang to life, Ann was born.

The baby would have been a source of worry with every tiny sniffle, and later, with every bump suffered in a tumble. Anson and Rachel’s memories of little girls lost would never have been far from mind. Yet, Ann passed all the danger marks. It’s natural to suppose an unexpected,and only daughter would be doted on by older parents, but I have reservations.

Ann’s eldest brother, Anson, was a generation older and out of the house. Mere days before Ann’s first birthday (1815), her next brother, William (17 years), went off to sea. (This was not at all unusual in Southeastern Massachusetts when most men became either farmers or seamen.)

In 1822, when she was just seven years old, Thomas, the brother she would have toddled around the house after, obtained his Seaman’s Certificate in Newport, RI, – a week before he officially turned 13. This is surprising for a boy with two living parents, and the only son at home. (1)  Little Ann likely wept bitter tears at his departure, and, perhaps, for years afterward. She had suddenly become an only child, and she may have felt very lonely.

It was common for an unmarried daughter to care for her aging parents until they died. As a young woman, Ann certainly engaged in cooking and cleaning, laundering clothes and linens, keeping fires going, and acting nurse when her mother or father were sick. Ann knew what the future held for her as she neared adulthood. Her decision to marry tells us she wanted more in life.

However it was exactly that Ann and Benjamin found each other, these Hathaway and Bliffins families were certainly acquainted in that small rural community. The betrothed couple professed their marriage vows in Freetown on Sunday, August 27, 1834.

Married life in New Bedford

There is every reason to believe Benjamin was an attentive husband, but the couple remained childless for six years. At last, the birth of Sarah M. Hathaway (2), on September 21, 1840, was recorded in New Bedford. That healthy little girl (3) must have brought great joy to the couple.

In 1843, another girl was born, named Ann (Anna) Franklin. The little one died of “brain fever” before her second birthday in summer of 1845. Ann became pregnant soon after, and another girl, named Ann Franklin, was born the last day of June 1846, but died at four days, of a “diseased heart.” Ann gave birth in November 1847 to yet another Ann Franklin. The parents may have dared to hope with her, but she died, at nine months, of cholera.

Having buried a third daughter in August 1848, weathered pregnancies, births, sicknesses, and seeming unrelenting grief, Ann herself fell ill. One month later, September 1848, Ann Maria (Bliffins) Hathaway was 34 years and four months. (4) Three days before her passing, Ann and Benjamin marked their 14th wedding anniversary.

Grave marker of Ann Maria (Bliffens) Hathaway in Oak Grove Cemetery, New Bedford, MA | Image from Find A Grave contributor, "goose," 2015.

Ann Maria (Bliffens) Hathaway, Oak Grove Cemetery, New Bedford, MA [Credit: Find A Grave contributor, goose, 2015.]

Ann was the help meet who made a home for her husband and gave him children. She also moved that household, at least twice, probably three times, as her husband made more money, and bought real estate that improved his finances, and gained him respect in the New Bedford community. Benjamin Hathaway was certainly stunned; without Ann, how would he get along? As a recent study shows, men aren’t very good at multitasking. With a motherless eight-year-old, a house, and business demands, Benjamin was in trouble.

Then, as today, goodhearted family, friends, and neighbors would have done what they could to help, but that couldn’t be counted on as a permanent solution.

Next time: More wives and more children

Notes:

(1) Thomas Valentine Bliffins’s (1808-1886) compelling reason for leaving remains unknown. He proved well-suited for life abroad, as he became a Master Mariner and ship captain. He lived in San Francisco, CA for decades and appears, to have never married.

(2) Benjamin and Ann’s daughter, Sarah, may well have been named for Benjamin’s older unmarried sister (Sarah “Sally” Hathaway, 1797-1866). Sarah lived in to manage her brother’s household, at least, once (1855).

(3) Sarah M. Hathaway (1840-1925) married Frederick A. Mickell, buried him and passed away, just a month short of her 85th birthday.

(4) In modern medicine, jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and / or skin) is a symptom, not a cause of death. Ann probably died of liver failure, which resulting from an underlying cause.

Sources and References:

  1. Ancestry.com. Massachusetts, Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988; Freetown  and New Bedford.
  2. Ancestry.com. NARA, United States Federal Census,1810, 1820, 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870,1880.
  3. Ancestry.com. Massachusetts State Census, 1855 and 1865.
  4. Ancestry.com.US City Directories, New Bedford, MA 1830-1890.
  5. Jaundice – National Library of Medicine – PubMed Health
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001259
  6. http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2017/01/27/multitaskingwomenmen

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Homicide By a Woman

Good people who lived good lives are bad subjects for a family historian trying to create vivid profiles that snap, crackle and pop with individuality. Most of our families come from hardworking, warmhearted and respectable people who kept their names out of the newspapers. So our good folks are boring, unless, maybe, they were good and rich.  I’m among those fortunate to have long-ago cousins who did some bad, bad things.

Homicide By a Woman—A woman named Adaline Clark, residing in Freetown, Mass. has been arrested for killing David S. Hathaway, on the night of the 22nd inst., in that town.  The Taunton Gazette says the parties resided together, and had a drunken quarrel.  Hathaway was armed with an axe, and it appears that the woman, under apprehension of an attack from him with such a weapon, discharged a pistol, shooting him through the head and, killing him instantly…  

This was news from Southeastern Massachusetts to Boston, to New York City where the Tribune ran the story above on September 30, 1856. From that single paragraph, unravels a convoluted and frankly sordid story. For starters, the murdered man, David Simmons Hathaway, and the murdering woman, Adaline (Hathaway) Clark, were cousins, the grandchildren of Dudley and Margaret (Briggs) Hathaway. Both families had deep roots in Freetown, Massachusetts.

 

The Murdered

Twenty six years before his awful end, 18-year-old David Simmons Hathaway, Jr. was so deeply in love with Olive Barrows, that he marched himself into the town hall to register his intention to marry her. When you look at the Freetown records for 1830, below the marriage intention, you can see the town clerk added,

“Forbidden by David S. Hathaway,  father.”  

If David senior objected to the union for a reason other than his son’s youth, it’s been lost to time. But I’ll bet David and Olive surprised the community by waiting three, long years.  When David reached his majority (21) in 1833, no one could keep  him from making Olive his own.  The year after, a daughter, Sarah Briggs Hathaway, was born. She was to be the couple’s only child.

After the 1840 US census, Olive Hathaway disappears from record. David Hathaway became a man adrift who relied on alcohol to forget his sorrows and assuage his pain. If he was addicted to drink, it’s not hard to understand how  David’s character may have taken a dark turn. He may not have been a very good father.

In 1848, at 14 1/2 years, Sarah married John Peirce, a man 8 years older than herself. Two years later for the 1850 US census, Sarah and John were living with a Barrows family (probably relatives of her mother). I haven’t yet discovered where David was staying and what he was doing that year. His name resurfaces for the 1855 census in Freetown, and there he spent his last 14 months on Earth.

 

The Murderer

In March 1834, David’s cousin and neighbor, Adeline Hathaway, married another neighbor, Seth Clark.  Over the next 12 years, the Clarks produced four sons. The 1850 census shows Seth working as an unskilled  laborer,  and the family did not own their home. It must have been a struggle to feed and clothe their growing boys. Still, when the census enumerator stopped by in September, the Clarks appear to be an average family:

Seth Clark – Age 38 – Laborer
Adeline Clark – Age 36

Albert Clark – Age 15 – Attended school

Bradford Clark – Age 12 – Attended school
Rhodolphus Clark – Age 10
Phillip H -Clark – Age 4.

Not quite five years later, when the Massachusetts state census was taken July 17, 1855, the Clark household had changed significantly:

Seth Clark – Age 43 – Stone cutter
Adeline Clark – Age 40

Bradford Clark – Age 17 – Laborer

Phillip H -Clark – Age 9

David S. Hathaway – Age 43 – Farmer.

Seth has advanced from a laborer to a stone cutter, a skilled trade, which means he’s at last making a better wage. Two sons, Albert (20) and Rhodolphus (15), are missing from the home, and Bradford (17) is out of school and at work himself.

The final name in the household is David S. Hathaway. Perhaps, Adaline convinced Seth that her troubled cousin really needed a place to stay. There is no way for us today to know exactly when David came to live with the Clarks. We do know that they weren’t all living in harmony. The following bit among short items from Freetown, MA, appeared in March 1856:

David S. Hathaway was knocked down by Mrs. Seth Clark with a billet of wood for licking her son.

Adaline had a grievance, and few  parents wouldn’t seek to punish an adult who assaulted their child. However, to pick up a piece of lumber and beat a perpetrator to the ground, suggests a helluva temper. For the incident to make the papers as far away as Macon, Georgia, Adaline must have given David a spectacular thrashing.

 

The Murder

The opening newspaper quote makes the incident seem a clear case of self-defense: David Hathaway came home drunk out of his mind, and an argument ensued that escalated into an axe attack. Adeline Clark saved herself from a grisly fate by making a single, perfect, kill shot.  Self-defense was what Adaline told her neighbors that night.  Self-defense was what she told the authorities.

On examination, Adaline explained she’d gone to bed and was roused sometime later by the noise made by the falling-down-drunk David Hathaway who was attempting to get inside the locked back door. Adeline took an oil lamp to guide her way to the kitchen and let David inside. He took the lamp from her and shoved her outside into the rain. While she pounded and pleaded to be let back in, David guarded the door, axe in hand, and vowed he’d use it if Adaline reentered the house.

After an hour and a half outside in her rain-soaked clothes, Adaline said she heard a chair tip over, then a thud which she assumed was David having fallen down. At this point, Adaline went into the house and retrieved the pistol she had bought a week or so before and kept ready. By the lamp light in the front room, she saw David on the floor with the axe beside him. She claimed he reiterated his threat to kill her and “two or more of her children.” However, David was too incapacitated to stand up. That was the moment Adaline chose to fire a bullet into his brain.

Somewhere, in the interest of full disclosure, she added that she had been David Hathaway’s mistress.

Having given testimony that she believed completely justified her act, Adaline must have been knocked for a loop when the coroner’s jury rendered its verdict of willful and malicious murder.

 

The Trial

Adaline failed to realize that her own account of the shooting and the advance planning that went into it, were cold and calculating moves. Why didn’t she go to her neighbor’s house when David locked her out in the rain, before she killed him, instead of afterward as she did? In spite of the wilful and malicious murder finding, Adaline was tried at Taunton for the lesser crime of manslaughter.

It was a tough trial and jury deliberations did not go smoothly. Adaline was convicted in May 1858, but not sentenced right away. In hope of being granted leniency, Adaline appealed to the court of public opinion by publishing a “lengthy statement in the Fall River News detailing the nature of the troubles between herself and Hathaway…”

In October 1858, Adaline Hathaway Clark was sentenced to five years at hard labor in the New Bedford House of Correction.  At 45 years of age, Adeline was enumerated there among the other inmates for the 1860 US census. Having paid her debt to society, she was released in June 1863.

 

The Surprise Ending

Several newspaper stories about Adaline including the line,  She has a husband living in Rhode Island.  That’s right, we can’t forget about Seth Clark, head of household, husband and father until his world imploded. When Seth left Freetown we can’t say exactly;  why he left is an easy guess in light of Adaline’s publicly confessed adultery. It’s most likely that Adaline and Seth never laid eyes on each other again after 1856.

In the 1865 state census, ex-con, Adaline Clark lived again in Freetown with her 26-year-old son, Bradford. She claimed that year she was a widow, but she wasn’t.  In 1880 Adeline said she was divorced, but that was not true either. During that same enumeration, Seth Clark, alive and well in Providence, RI, said he was a widower. And so the estranged spouses alternated between wishing their legal bonds dissolved, and wishing the other dead – for the rest of their long lives. Seth died in 1892 at nearly 82 years, and Adaline went in 1896 at 82 and some months more.

It’s touching irony that Seth and Adaline Clark were laid to rest forever together in Assonet Burying Ground.

http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=82168445http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=82168471

We who know the worst about them should resist the urge to smirk, and consider this. The Clark children suffered instability, a broken home, and social stigma that must have hurt them in countless ways, –  and yet they understood that in the end, love is all that matters.

The surviving Clark children forgave and honored their parents so that Clark descendants strolling the peaceful yard today might think of Seth and Adaline as just another boring, long-married couple.

 

 

 

 Sources:

Macon Weekly Telegraph (Macon, GA); Volume: XXX   Issue: 32; Tuesday, March 4, 1856; Page 3. Homicide by a Woman

The Boston Herald (Boston, MA); Saturday, September 27, 1856; Page 2. The Tragedy at Freetown

The New York Tribune (New York, NY); Volume: XVI   Issue: 4820; Tuesday, September 30, 1856; Page 3. Homicide by a Woman

The Boston Herald (Boston, MA); Volume: VI   Issue: 127; Thursday, April 2, 1857; Page 4. Miss Adeline Clark

The Boston Traveler (Boston, MA); Saturday, May 8, 1858; Page 2. Murderers on their Defence

The Boston Herald (Boston, MA); Friday, August 14, 1863; Page 2. The Shooting Case…

National Archives (NARA); US Population Schedules.

Massachusetts. 1855–1865 Massachusetts State Census [microform]. New England Historic Genealogical Society, Boston, Massachusetts.

Ancestry.com, Massachusetts Town and Vital Records database.

Find A Grave <www.findagrave.com> photos courtesy of jtb, 2012; Seth Clark Memorial#82168445; Adaline Clark Memorial #82168471

Levi Keirstead, Family and Friends?

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Levi Keirstead, Family and Friends?

Circa 1900, perhaps, in Littleton or Groton Massachusetts. My great grandfather, Levi Keirstead, sits on the porch rail, – hatless, in work boots, and with bushy mustache and arms crossed over his vest. Most of the others dressed up for the occasion, but what sort of gathering was it?

If anyone recognizes Keirstead (or other) relatives, the house, or anything else, please get in touch!