Home » Family History » Great-Great Uncle William Gorton Atwell: Enigma

Great-Great Uncle William Gorton Atwell: Enigma

William Gorton Atwell is one of those family members who has just enough information to get me interested, but not enough to get a full picture of who he was.

Most sources say that William was born on July 18, 1888 in Providence, Providence County, RI. His World War I Draft Registration card stated the same date in 1887–but I believe he may have had a reason to state this (more on that later). He was the oldest living son of William Armstrong Atwell and Altie May Williams.

Being just a child, William doesn’t show up in records again until the 1900 Census — and this time it’s twice! On June 9, he is enumerated with his family in Providence; but on June 12, he is enumerated in nearby Cranston, Providence County, RI at Sockanosset School for Boys. I am certain both records are for William — all the census information is identical. Also, June 9 was a Saturday and William could very well have been home from school for the weekend.

My research revealed that Sockanosset was basically a school for juvenile delinquents. The greatest number of admissions were for theft, but there were many other reasons, including truancy and even “incorrigibility”! Why was William there? Did he do something wrong; was he a difficult child? I could find nothing in on-line newspapers about any possible crimes. In any case, Sockanosset was known for its work in rehabilitating these wayward boys, providing them with schooling, a chapel and a gymnasium. The boys were also taught various skills, such as carpentry, masonry, and printing. I highly suspect this is where William developed the skills for his future occupation in working in the printing industry.

William’s 1917 Draft Registration card indicated that he served four years in the Navy. The big question is: when did he serve? I suspect it must be sometime before 1910, when he next shows up in Providence. Maybe he was the one who lied about his age to join the Navy (rather than my great-grandfather), which may be why his birth date on the card isn’t the same as every other record. His time in Sockanosset indicates possible unrest at home and I cannot find him in the 1905 Rhode Island Census.

Despite me not being able to find him on the 1910 Census, William was living at 100 Sheldon Street in the 1910 and 1912 Providence City Directories. On June 28, 1913, he married Mary Cecelia Downey (who was about five months pregnant) in East Providence. After this point, he shows up consistently in various locations in East Providence and Providence, working as a paper cutter or printer. His World War I Draft Registration card gives even more information, saying that he worked as a bookbinder at C.H. Fryer & Co. at 11 Pine Street in Providence.

William and Mary’s children were:

  • Thomas Francis (was he named after my great-grandfather?), born November 7, 1913; married Edith Hill, then Beatrice ____; died Jan 3, 2002; buried at Rhode Island Veterans Memorial Cemetery, Exeter, Washington County, RI.
  • Dorothy Mary, born Feb 10, 1915 in East Providence; married John Michael Cronin; died August 20, 1970 in Oxnard, Ventura County, CA; buried in Santa Clara Cemetery in Oxnard.
  • William J., born April 14, 1916; died March 1992; buried Gate of Heaven Cemetery in East Providence.
  • female stillborn, born & died on May 8, 1917.
  • Richard J., born Aug 13, 1918; died Jun 19, 2003 in Bristol, Bristol County, RI; buried Rhode Island Veterans Memorial Cemetery, Exeter, Washington County, RI.
  • Virginia F, born Dec 1, 1920; married ____ Brightman; died November 1978; buried Gate of Heaven Cemetery in East Providence.
  • Norma Cecelia, born 1923, died February 3, 1924.

The most mysterious thing to me about William is the fact that he died on July 9, 1923 in Providence at the age of 35. I have no idea why, but only have a feeling that it was very sad. This, coupled with their youngest child’s death only seven months later must have devastated Mary and the other children. Of course, Mary had the support of her mother and siblings who they lived with until Mary’s remarriage to Edward Joseph Berry between April 24, 1925 (where she is still widowed in the RI Census) and April 10, 1930 (where she is remarried).

The final mystery of William is where he is buried. Nor could I find Mary or Edward’s burial information anywhere.

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