Part 2: Thomas Seth Benson (1830-1888) – A Much Married Man

To you gentle readers long awaiting Part Two, I apologize. My intention was to get to the bottom of all the odd facts attached to the life of Thomas Seth Benson, and deliver conclusions tied up with a pastel ribbon (appropriate for springtime). Alas, the scope of this follow on piece got out of hand. In order to move on, I acknowledge many mysteries remain, and present what I’ve discovered below.

Thomas Seth Benson was born about 1830 in Palermo, Maine to Isaac B. and Eliza F. (Pelton) Benson.[1, 19] He had an older brother and sister, Augustus and Almira, and younger siblings Octavia and William.[2] His mother, Eliza Pelton Benson, died in 1847,[3] when his youngest brother was seven years old.

By the 1850 US census, Thomas’s father, Isaac Benson, moved his now-motherless family from hard-scrabble farming in Maine, to the central Massachusetts town of West Boylston in Worcester County. All the workers in the household, including Isaac himself, were making boots. However, Thomas was missing from the household. He surfaced the next year, living in Methuen, MA, employed as a hatter, and gettting married.

Marriage #1 – Margaret J. Clement | 1851 – Newburyport, Massachusetts

On 14 October 1851, Thomas S. Benson married Margaret J. Clement in Newburyport, MA.[4] Margaret was born in Hampton, NH and lived there with her parents for the 1850 census.[5] Hampton, NH is where she gave birth in 1852 to daughter, Eliza Benson,[6] then in 1854 to a son, Charles Benson.[7]

Soon after that, the relationship broke down (there may or may not have been an official divorce), because on 30 October 1857, Margaret (Clement) Benson married Ransom Fogg in Hampton, NH.[8]

Marriage #2 – Ruth A. Taylor | About 1858 – Maine [?]

Barely three years after his first wife Margaret became Mrs. Fogg, Thomas Benson was enumerated in the 1860 US federal census in Kingfield, Franklin County, Maine. At 30 years of age, he had acquired real estate valued at $200 and $150 in personal property. His household consisted of 23-year-old Ruth A. (Taylor), his one-year-old daughter, Ida May Benson, and his 65-year-old father, Isaac B. Benson.[9]

Ruth was born in Farmington, ME, in 1836, to William and Amy (Oakes) Taylor. After a second daughter, Cora Benson, was born in 1861,[10] the family quit Maine for Boston, MA.

This was a key point in Thomas’s life, where he transformed himself from farmer to physician. If he got any medical training, it likely occurred in Boston, in the few months before he enlisted with the Union Army on 26 September 1862. From Doctors in Blue, George Washington Adams (1952) explains the state of medical education:

“In 1860, one year before the start of the Civil War, there were forty (40) existing medical schools… with total enrollment of 5,000… The demand for doctors outstripped the number of schools, and characteristically, students rushed through their classes in a year or less and then were free to hang out their shingle without (as was still commonplace in Europe) serving a professional apprenticeship.”

Ruth Benson lived in Boston the rest of her life. In the 1870 US census, she called herself a war widow. She raised her two daughters on her own, and when she died of cancer in 1878, she was identified as “widow of Thomas S. Benson.”[11] It is likely she never knew Thomas married three other women and fathered more children during her lifetime.

Marriage #3 – Clara Whitney | 1864 – Worcester, MA

Thomas was mustered out of the Massachusetts 3rd Cavalry Regiment, Company H, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 24 August 1863, after eleven months of a three-year hitch. Having enlisted as a physician with the rank of corporal (non-commissioned officer), he was discharged as a private, the lowest enlisted rank.[12] Something went wrong career-wise, but I don’t know what that was. Something went wrong health-wise, too. This was when Thomas began to have serious problems with his eyesight.[13, 19] He contracted “Purulent Ophthalmia”[20] in May 1863 in performance of his duty, and, from this point, his eye trouble made him incapable of returning to active service.[19]

Getting out of the war, and out of the military, must have improved his spirits, but not enough for him to return to Ruth and his daughters in Boston. He saw well enough the charms of Clara Whitney; Thomas married her on 2 November 1864 in Worcester, MA. On this record, Thomas identified himself as a physician and claimed the union was his second marriage.[14]

Thomas and Clara seem to have had no children. No other document of their life together has come to light. Interestingly, I was able to follow the fate of the four other wives, only Clara (Whitney) Benson seems to have vanished.

Clara, the daughter of Luther and Melinda (Wetherbee) Whitney was about two years older than Thomas. She had rejected her rural roots in Harvard, MA by the time she met Thomas, as she was residing in Boston when they married. She might be the 42-year-old Clara Benson, who was a dressmaker in Collins, Erie County, New York for the 1870 US census, but that’s where I ran out of clues for Clara.

Marriage #4 – Judith Spragg – 1868 – Springfield, New Brunswick (Canada)

Thomas’s trail led him northward to New Brunswick, Canada, the land of his father’s birth. Since I began Thomas Benson’s story here, with the 1871 Canada census, I’ll refer you back to Part 1 & Quack! Quack!! Quack!!! for related particulars.

I’m happy to report that Judith Spragg (b.1849), nearly twenty years younger than her groom, weathered her short alliance with Thomas Benson and came out okay. She bore him a son, LeForest  Benson (1871-1940)[15] and, about five years later, married a William Urquhhart (almost certainly related to the quirky 1871 census enumerator). Judith and William had a daughter together, and lived out their autumn years in Newton, Massachusetts, where Judith (Spragg) (Benson) Urquhart passed away in March 1930.[16]

Marriage #5 – Anna Elizabeth (Gale) Howard – 1873 – Cedar Rapids, Iowa

What was our Maine native, Thomas Benson, the blind doctor, war vet, and recent resident of Canada doing out in Iowa? Darned if I know. I have a better idea of why his fifth wife-to-be, Anna (Gale) Howard (1843-1915) was so far from home.

Ann, also born in Maine, accompanied her birth family on their move out west in early 1869. Anna had daughter, Minnie, and was pregnant with Charlotte Victoria, born in Iowa in 1869. She and her husband, George Albert Howard were not living together in 1870 when Anna was working as a domestic.[17]

How she and Thomas got together is a mystery, but they were married on 27 May 1873.[18] Interestingly, Daisy A. Benson, the couple’s first child, seems to have been born in 1872.[21] They went on to have four sons, Lewis Bernard, Thomas Ray, Solon F. and William Augustus Benson.

By 1880, the family had moved from Iowa to Illinois (for 1876 birth of Solon) to Detroit, Michigan. The population census snapshot tells us Thomas is blind and has no occupation. Thirty-four-year-old Ann is caring for a 50-year-old blind man and five children ages twelve to four.[22] The 1880 Schedules of Defective, Dependent, and Delinquent Classes tells us more:

Thomas S. Benson – Pension, Self supporting

Form of Blindness = Total – at 33 years of age
Supposed cause of blindness if known = General Exposure. In Army and producing inflammation of the Eyes resulting in Total blindness in Six Weeks
Has this person ever been an inmate in an institution for the blind? = Boston Infirmary – 3 Wks – 1863

The youngest son, William A. Benson, seems to have been born outside Maine in 1882, presumably, it was after that the Benson family came back east to settle in Buckfield, Oxford County, Maine. Thomas S. Benson died there, on 10 March 1888, of “Consumption” (tuberculosis). He also died insolvent,[23] as per the following:

Oxford Democrat—-Buckfield August 28, 1888
Thomas S. Benson – insolvent – call to creditors to submit claims by Nov. 3, 1888
Fred H. Atwood, Edwin F. Atwood, Commissioners

That may have been a little embarrassing for the widow and children, but Ann didn’t let it slow her down. Three months after burying Thomas, Anna E. (Gale) (Howard) Benson married Charles H. Hodgdon, a Buckfield native, 12 years her junior. [24]

Though Thomas was dead two years, his name appears on the 1890 Special Schedules of the Eleventh Census Enumerating Union Veterans and Widows of Union Veterans of the Civil War:

Line 39. Anna E. widow of / Family – Thomas S. Benson – Rank: Private – Regiment: 22 Mass —
—2nd half page—
Line 39. PO Address: South Paris Maine | Disability Incurred: Consumption / Blindness | Remarks: Died Mar 10, 1888 Totally Blind

Anna was apparently receiving compensation for the minor Benson children. Now, Mrs. Charles Hodgdon, Ann died in Buckfield on 2 July 1915. I hope she had some good times with Charlie in those later years.

And in the end…

We should not judge others, but it’s hard to refrain. Not only did Thomas Benson leave several women, seemingly without ceremony and without support, he left children behind, too. I found ten of them. To say, and he never looked back, would be in poor taste (considering his blindness), but there it is. We can hope his progeny ended up having more joy in their lives than Thomas brought to them and their mothers.

References & Sources

[1] Ancestry.com: Massachusetts, Marriage Records, 1840-1915. Worcester, MA, 1864. Thomas S. Benson & Clara Whitney.

[2] Ancestry.com: 1850 United States Federal Census.  West Boylston, Worcester, MA; Dwelling #178, Family #214.

[3] Familysearch.org: International Genealogical Index (IGI). Entry for Moses Pelton, batch A22798-6.

[4] Familysearch.org: Massachusetts Marriages, 1841-1915. Newburyport, Essex, MA, 1851. Thomas S. Benson & Margaret Clemens (Clement).

[5] Familysearch.org: United States Census, 1850. Hampton, Rockingham, NH; Family #125.

[6] Familysearch.org: Massachusetts Marriages, 1841-1915. Boston, Suffolk, MA, 1871, Frank E. Sampson and Eliza M. Benson.

[7] Familysearch.org: New Hampshire Death Records, 1654-1947. Charles Benson, 15 Aug 1861.

[8] Familysearch.org: New Hampshire Marriage Records, 1637-1947. Hampton, 1857. Ransom Fogg & Margaret Benson.

[9] Ancestry.com: United States Federal Census, 1860; Kingfield, Franklin, Maine; Roll: M653_435; Page: 820; Dwelling #81, Family #85.

[10] Ancestry.com: Massachusetts, Death Records, 1841-1915. Ruth Benson (Taylor) Ruth A Benson Taylor, 3 Aug 1878; Boston, MA.

[11] Ancestry.com: Massachusetts Deaths, 1841-1915.  Cora B. McConville, 10 Sep 1888; Chelsea, Massachusetts, v 393 p 451, State Archives, Boston; FHL microfilm 960,239.

[12] Ancestry.com: U.S., Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles, 1861-1865. Thomas S Benson, Enlistment Date: 26 Sep 1862, Rank at enlistment: Corporal, State Served: Massachusetts, Service Record: Enlisted in Company H, Massachusetts 3rd Cavalry Regiment on 27 Oct 1862. Mustered out on 24 Aug 1863 at Baton Rouge, LA.

[13] Ancestry.com: National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington, D.C.; U.S. Federal Census – 1880 Schedules of Defective, Dependent, and Delinquent Classes; Year: 1880; Roll: 73; Publication Number: T1164. Thomas S. Benson, Detroit, MI.

[14] Ancestry.com: Massachusetts, Marriage Records, 1840-1915. Thomas S. Benson and Clara Whitney,  2 Nov 1864, Worcester, Massachusetts.

[15] Ancestry.com: Massachusetts, State and Federal Naturalization Records, 1798-1950.  Laforest Benson, Birth Date: 24 Apr 1871, Birth Place: St John, New Brunswick, Arrival Date: 27 Apr 1888, Arrival Place: Boston, Petition Date: 17 Oct 1896, Petition Place: Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

[16] Ancestry.com: U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995. Newton, Massachusetts, City Directory, 1931. Judith Urquhart Death Date: 21 Mar 1930, Spouse: William Urquhart.

[17] Ancestry.com: 1870 United States Federal Census. Cedar Rapids Ward 4, Linn, Iowa; Roll: M593_405; Page: 56B; Dwelling #940, Family #983, Wm. K. Gale.

[18] Familysearch.org: county courthouses, Iowa; FHL microfilm 1,705,349. Thomas S. Benson and Ann E. Gale, 27 May 1873, Cedar Rapids, Linn, IA.

[19] Fold3 by Ancestry: Thomas S Benson; Civil War Service File. Thomas S. Benson, Co. H, 3rd MassachusettsCavalry: Muster Records and Disability Discharge Certificate #7130; (12 pages). https://www.fold3.com/image/314760708.

[20] Wikipedia: Ophthalmia; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ophthalmia

[21] Find A Grave: http://www.findagrave.com/  Memorial No. 93338123. Daisy A Parkinson (18 Jun 1872 – 7 Mar 1929), Riverside Cemetery, Lewiston, Androscoggin County, Maine.

[22] Ancestry.com: 1880 United States Census. Roll: 612; Detroit, Wayne, Michigan; Enumeration District: 293. Page: 523C; Dwelling #26, Family #26.

[23] Ancestry.com: Maine, Wills and Probate Records, 1584-1999. Thomas S Benson, Probate Place: Oxford, Maine. Estate Files, Drawer B18, Bangs, Henry-Brown, Elizabeth S, 1888-1892 (Table of Contents, 20 images).

[24] Find A Grave: http://www.findagrave.com/ Memorial No. 30231437. Anna Eliza Gale Hodgdon (Jul. 3, 1842 – Jul. 2, 1915), Buckfield Village Cemetery, Buckfield,
Oxford County, Maine.

 

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The Notorious George Barlow – Part 3

The Brute and Bully At Home

George Barlow’s life before 1657 is a void. He brought to Sandwich, two sons, Moses and Aaron, but no wife.  Some researchers conjecture the marriage and births took place in England, and that George may have had other children. Presumably, his first wife died and presumably, of natural causes, but this article is about George’s life with a new wife.

The year 1657 was a milestone for Jane Besse, too, albeit a sad one. Her husband Anthony, one of the town’s original founders, fell ill in February and died in May. In the 18 years before, Anthony and Jane had built a house in the Spring Hill section, improved land, acquired livestock and other necessities which sustained a family of five girls and two boys.

Anthony Besse had a will, a standard instrument to convey property to heirs, but details add color to the legalese. Anthony named Jane his executrix, proof that he trusted in her judgment and abilities (perhaps surprisingly, this action was not uncommon). My attention was drawn to the bequests:

To Jane my wife, three Cowes… blacking Moose and Cherrey…

“To Dorcas my daughter two heifers… Nubbin and Spark and one more now

 which we call young moose;

“To Ann my daughter one heifer which we call pretty

To Nehemiah my son one heifer formerly Disposed to him Called Coll:

“… unto my two sonnes…Nehemiah and David…two steers…Burnett & Raven; 

“To my Daughter Mary one heifer wee call browne; 

“To my Daughter Jane one heifer wee call Daysey.”

While most seventeenth century wills designate livestock like inanimate property (description – cows, steers, horses, etc. and a quantity), the Besse animals were unique individuals with names, – Nubbin, Spark, Pretty, Brownie, Daisy… suggesting the Besses were good-natured and caring folks.  Anthony knew his children’s favorites and assigned parting gifts to make them happy. Yet, how hard it must have been for the Besses to be happy when this thoughtful and loving family man was gone from their lives!

Some months after burying Anthony, Jane gave birth to his last child.  The widow had to cope with the needs of eight fatherless children, a house, farm, animals, – and grief, a burden daunting for the stoutest heart. We don’t know how long the Widow Besse was on her own, and typically, widows remarried.  However, what moved Jane Besse to yoke herself to the cruel and tyrannical George Barlow – is beyond understanding.

The date of their marriage escaped record, but Plymouth County Court records document that it wasn’t going well. On March 4, 1661/62, Jane’s eldest daughters, Dorcas, Ann, and Mary Besse, went before the court for –

“crewell and unnatural practice toward their father-in-law George Barlow.”

Apparently, having failed to earn respect at home, George handled his stepdaughters the way he handled everyone who pissed him off, – he hauled them into court. To be fair, details of the case suggest the girls were not entirely blameless, and punishment was duly ordered.

At the same time, the court recognized the Barlow household was getting out of control. George and Jane –

“were both severely reproved for their most ungodly living in contention with the other, and admonished to live otherwise.”

Conflict was inevitable when George moved in with Jane, – into the house built by, and filled with memories of Anthony Besse. To make that situation work would have required a man of great sensitivity and delicacy, – not a man known from Cape Cod to Boston for his dickishness. George, the evil stepfather, appears in court again on June 3, 1662.

We learned above that Anthony Besse’s will gave his daughter Jane a heifer the little girl herself probably named Daysey (Daisy). Added on to Jane’s natural affection for Daisy, was the cow’s status as remembrance of her departed father. So George took it away. If he gave a reason for doing so, the court ruled it invalid:

“concerning a cow belonging to Jane, daughter of Anthony Bessey, of Sandwich, the Court have ordered G[e]orge Barlow, in whose hands the cow has been for some time, to return her to the overseers of the estate of the said Anthony Bessey, to be disposed of by them for the use and the good of the said Jane Bessey.”

In that same year (1662), two of the Besse girls he took to court, Ann and Mary, got married. This development would have significantly decreased domestic tension. Then in 1664, Nehemiah Besse, Jane’s eldest son, reached the age of majority and took over his father’s property. This prompted George and Jane to move some miles away from Spring Hill to Pocasset, (part of Bourne, Massachusetts today).

A change of scene can mean a fresh start in life, a chance to make things better, – but George got worse. On March 6, 1665/66, he was fined ten shillings for being drunk – a second time. Then in May 1665, he was accused of –

attempting the chastity of Abigaill, the wife of Jonathan Pratt, by aluring words and actes of force.”

It seems surprising that after these public transgressions, Jane bore George two sons, John (about 1669) and Nathan (1670).  Because she was also cited by the court for the couple’s scream fights, it’s doubtful she meekly forgave him. And, though it is awful to contemplate, the possibility that George also used “actes of force” on his wife is consistent with his character. In 1677 he was back in court for being “turbulent, and threatening to drive away the minister, Mr. Smith.” He returned in 1678 for being a “turbulent fellow” and was bound over for the next court session.

Fanatical, delusional, or just plain mean, George Barlow apparently believed he was right about everything. There’s no evidence he ever tried to reform his antisocial behavior, or regretted the terrible suffering he caused. He held grudges to the grave. In his will, to Aaron and Moses, sons of his first marriage, George gave only five shillings each, adding, “that is all I give them,” a verbal twist of the knife his sadistic nature couldn’t resist even as he prepared for death.

A widespread and popular story claims that George Barlow “ended his days alone and in want.” A version in Quaker tradition says he was reduced to begging for food and was fed by the very victims of his religious persecution. This would  be poetic justice, karma, and just deserts for this horrendously horrible human being; if only it were true. For the Quakers especially, it’s morality tale stressing the virtue of forgiveness, even for enemies. In real life, the craven George Barlow got away clean.

As mentioned earlier, George had a will because he had an estate. While it may have amounted to less than his neighbors, – eight acres, a house, farm stock and equipment, and household furnishings, – it refutes the notion that George was destitute and starving on the streets of Sandwich.

He wasn’t alone at the end either. The sons he had with Jane, John and Nathan, managed to stay in his good graces; he named them co-executors. George left his house, land, livestock, and all remaining worldly goods to the boys and their mother. George made his will on August 4, 1684 and it was probated October 31, 1684, so he also had time to make spiritual reckoning and prepare any arguments he might need for a heavenly court.

Despite all that passed between them, there’s little doubt Jane Besse Barlow dutifully nursed her truculent husband to the end. The awful George Barlow most likely died in his own bed, surrounded by family on a lovely fall day. He would have imparted his final words (typically religious admonishments) and had a good death. So the tale of George Barlow illustrates that life is not fair!

Somehow, the Barlow progeny all appear to have been respected members of the community. The sweetest outcome is that some married into Quaker families.  Barlow’s boys, John and Nathan, married and had seven sons between them, – but none of them carried the name George.

I imagine Jane was a happier widow this time around. I picture her pausing between chores to gaze toward the hearth for a moment. The aroma of a meat and vegetable stew emanates from an iron kettle and mingles with the scent of baking bread. Before the children and grandchildren tumble inside for the meal, Jane revels in the unaccustomed peace of her home, – and she whispers her heartfelt thanks to God.

SOURCES:

Plymouth Court Records. (Online database: AmericanAncestors.org, New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2010)

 The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England 1620-1633, Volumes I-III. (Online database: AmericanAncestors.org, New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2010)

Cape Cod, Its People and Their History, Henry C. Kittredge; 1930.

Sandwich Historical Society; http://sandwichhistory.org

The History of The Society of Friends on Cape Cod by James Warren Gould; http://www.capecodquakers.org/smm_history.html

George Barlow of Sandwich Massachusetts – From the research of Edson Barlow; Barlow Genealogy 1998-2004; http://www.barlowgenealogy.com/GeorgeofSandwich/georgemass.html

Why did O’Flaherty plant boiled potatoes?

I was excited when I acquired a copy of the Ayer’s American Almanac. Not only was it published in Lowell, Massachusetts, the ancestral city of my Roane clan, it’s the 1859 edition, – the year my Irish immigrant couple, John P. and Mary (Hurney) Roane were married. I liked to imagined the little booklet sitting on a shelf in their home on the comer of Gorham of Summer streets.

The purpose of the magazine, “For the health of All Nations,” was trumpeted by an angel on the cover.  Its enterprising publisher,  “Dr. James C. Ayer, Practical and Analytical Chemist,” had equal interest in promoting his financial health. Lengthy  articles describe the powers of Ayer’s Compound Concentrated Extract of Sarsaparilla, Ayer’s Cathartic Pills, and Ayer’s Cherry Pectoral, to ease everyday complaints, and to cure virtually everything from deafness, partial blindness, fits, paralysis and tumors –  to gout and syphilis.

Cover of Ayer's American Almanac 1859

The booklet measures 4 5/8 by 7 inches.

Despite the relentless advertising, the almanac had practical utility. The annual calendar incorporated the Christian observances of Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Trinity and Advent. It listed anniversaries of national significance,  such as “Franklin born, 1706” and “Battle of Tippecanoe, 1811.” And it wouldn’t be an almanac without the weather. Predictions of wind, rain, snow and temperature would have interested city dwellers and rural folk, just as we check the daily forecast. The almanac also offered amusement. Each calendar page had extra space at the bottom. Some months filled it with run-over text. Other months featured aphorisms, witticisms, doggerel – and jokes.

In my mind’s eye, I’d  picture John in the parlor reading aloud to Mary (who was illiterate), or to a small group of Sunday visitors enjoying a break in the work week.  I’d imagine hearing their laughter and cups clinking (whether filled with tea or something stronger, I can’t say).

Then after I read the booklet through, I wondered if I was wrong about the laughter. What would any native of Ireland think and feel about the following?

            “How much did yees ask for thim buttons?” inquired an Irish customer.

            “Fifteen cents.” 

            “I’ll give ye thirty-siven.”

            “I didn’t say fifty ─ I said fifteen,” replied the honest dealer.

            “Bedad, an’ I’ll give you tin cints, thin.”

 

            “Why in the world do you plant boiled potatoes, Mr. O”Flaherty?”

            “Shure, yer honor, I’m goin’ to thry the ixpirimint of raising them already biled for my own aiting.”

 

            “Did yoar fall hurt you?” said Pat to his friend who fell with his hed from a high ladder.

             “No, Patrick, shure, it was hitting the ground that hurthed me.”

 

            The Irishman’s plan for casting cannon was, ─First take a hole, and then pour the iron around it. 

Today, this seems benign humor,  some gentle ribbing, – and no harm done. Certainly no reason to be upset, right? Now consider these other bits of fun from 1859:

            “Say, Pomp, you nigger, where you get dat new hat?”

            “Why at de shop, ob course.”

            “What is de price of such an article as dat?”

            “I don’t know, nigger, I don’t know; de shopkeeper wasn’t dar!”

 

            Sambo says, “Why am my belubed Dinah like de cloth dey make in Lowell? Cos she’s an unbleached she─ting.”

In both the Irish and the Black ‘jokes,’ ethnic speech patterns signal the low intelligence and low character of the subjects. Instantly recognized stereotypes provide the readers of the dominant culture with a good laugh. If the source of the humor is the same, – why is it only the last  two retain shock value?

In part, the ethnic slurs pop; but the rest of it is recognition that African Americans still do not enjoy the full-fledged membership privileges that Irish Americans have in modern society.

After the Civil War, things began to turn around for the Irish in America. They fought for the Union with distinction, and earned the gratitude of the nation. Gradually,  “real” Americans (white natives) became more accepting, and government jobs, – fire, police, public works, and other essential services were opened up to the Irish.

In 1888, John and Mary’s son joined the US Post Office and carried letters for 40 years. This modest post, paid John F. Roane enough to purchase a house and to raise a large, family. The Lowell newspapers over decades, reported the exploits of Roane grandsons – in  sports, the arts, the military, politics, and respectable Lowell society.

Yet  barely 20 years before his son got that post office job, John P. Roane died – and Lowell newspapers didn’t carry a word of his passing. Though a Lowell resident for 18 years,  an American citizen,  property owner and businessman,  the Irish native’s life went unremarked.

So we come back to Ayer’s American Almanac.  What do  its “jokes’ reveal about that period  – and about our own times?

I still wonder whether John Roane was angered by the characterization of the Irish in America or if being raised under English oppressors had inured him to insult.

I wonder, too, whether he felt sympathy for that other marginalized people – or whether he  laughed.

Notes:

1. The Old Farmers Almanac is still around and on the web – http://www.farmersalmanac.com

2.  There is a little bit about J. C. Ayer at Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Cook_Ayer

Roane’s Pennsylvanians and Hot Dance

Roane's Pennsylvanians

Frank Roane is at the far right of his band, Roane’s Pennsylvanians.

A recent link I stumbled upon at Archives.org brought to mind an exciting episode in Roane history that occurred when I had barely begun my journey.

I received a telephone call from an Al Giordano, who was a fan of early 20th century dance bands. He told me that BMG Music, when it acquired RCA Victor, inherited its properties. He had recording sheets from Studio 1, 24th Street, New York, dated January 28, 1932 and June 2, 1932, for sessions with Roane’s Pennsylvanians. In order to put together a new CD issue, he needed some authoritative information about Frank Roane. Wow.

I put out a cousin distress call and was able to get  my aunt to confirm that her Uncle Frank, AKA Francis J. Roane, AKA “Peach” Roane (1893-1942) was a master of ceremonies for weekly dances at the Commodore Ballroom in Lowell, Massachusetts. His signature schtick was delivering this announcement in an English accent,

The next daaance is the last daaance…

(Clearly, you had to be there to get the effect.) A direct line cousin added that some evenings Roane’s Pennsylvanians played the Commodore, Frank’s daughter, Mary Katherine, would sing with the band. Though band leader, there’s no evidence Frank was a musician (he did have the Roane family gift for song). He was rather, a manager and promoter.

In naming the group, I suspect he chose to trade on the popularity of another orchestra known as The Pennsylvanians. Modest soul that he was, he appended his name, created a brand and earned a modicum of lasting fame in music history. The University of Massachusetts Center for Lowell History has a Commodore Ballroom Collection that contains sheet music and photos of  bands that played at there and Roane’s Pennsylvanians is included among the “excellent local bands.” They played regional gigs to popular acclaim, and got that RCA contract.

The CD produced by The Old Masters and issued in 2000, is called, Alex Bartha’s Traymore Orchestra & Roane’s Pennsylvanians. The songs Frank Roane’s band recorded in 1932 are all fox trots in the Hot Dance category. Among the song titles you’ll detect a hint of Harlem / Black culture:

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
Cast Your Sins Away, Charlie Two-Step
Chinatown, My Chinatown
Good-Bye Blues
Is I in Love? I Is
Sleep, Come On and Take Me
When You and I Were Young, Maggie
We’ve Got to Put That Sun Back In The Sky
Why Don’t You Get Lost?

There were great dance beats, novelty tunes that incorporated scat singing. The Victor label issued records by Alex Bartha and Roane’s Pennsylvanians under the pseudonym, Williams’ Cotton Club Orchestra to expand market appeal. In fact, jazz great, Cab Calloway and His Orchestra also recorded the then new Harold Arlen / Ted Koehler tune, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.

Click on over to Archives.org and you can listen to Good-Bye Blues.