Family Legend Proves True!

In my last post, I noted that we would be coming back to Mercy (Williams) Randall’s line. As I researched the Randalls, I accidentally came across the confirmation of an old family story: that we were descended from Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island. My paternal grandmother always bragged about it, but my mother distrusted the story. When I started my research, I assumed that the connection would be through my ancestor John Williams (makes sense, right?), but I couldn’t get past his parents, who lived in New York State. When I hit Mercy during my Randall research, I quickly found out it was she who was descended from Roger!

Most of what I present here is based on the genealogy presented on the Roger Williams Family Association‘s website, with some help from Find a Grave and Google books. We’ll start with the progenitor himself, Roger Williams.

Roger Williams statue at Roger Williams University (actually fashioned after baseball player Ted Williams!). Author's collection.

Roger Williams statue at Roger Williams University (actually fashioned after baseball player Ted Williams!). Author’s collection.

Roger was born around 1604 in England. He married Mary Barnard on December 15, 1629. (She was born September 24, 1609 in Nottinghamshire.) His theological disagreements with the Church of England led them to leave Bristol, England aboard the ship Lyon on December 1, 1630, arriving in Nantasket, Plymouth Colony (today’s Hull, MA) on February 2, 1631 (some sources say February 5). Roger’s reputation as a separatist and an anabaptist sympathizer did not sit well with the authorities over the churches he worked in (Salem, then Plymouth, and back to Salem again). Finally in 1635, the General Court in Boston convicted Roger of “sedition and heresy” and said he must be banished. This led Roger to a friendship with some natives and the respectful purchase of land from them in 1636. Roger’s family and other followers of his joined him in the new settlement called Providence.

Roger Williams and other settlers are credited with founding what is now known as the First Baptist Church in America. In true Roger Williams fashion, he did not remain long with this church, but did stay in the area, continuing to preach and promote religious freedom. (In fact, the current mission of the First Baptist Church ends with, “What Roger Williams established is still worth standing for.” I love that!)

First Baptist Church of America (current building). Courtesy Wikipedia.

First Baptist Church of America (current building). Courtesy Wikipedia.

Roger’s wife Mary died in 1676 and Roger died on April 1, 1683, and it seems that they are buried in the now historic Williams Family Cemetery in Providence, Providence County, RI. They had six children, the first two of whom were born in Salem and the remainder in Providence.

  • Mary, born August 1633; married John Sayles in 1650 in Providence; died 1681 in Newport (now Middletown), RI; buried at Easton Lot, Middletown, Newport County, RI (the Family Association shows her death as 1684, but her gravestone is clearly marked 1681).
  • Freeborn, born October 4, 1635; married Thomas Hart in 1662 and Walter Clarke on March 6, 1683 in Newport; died January 10, 1710; buried at Clifton Burying Ground, Newport, Newport County, RI.
  • Providence, born September 16, 1638; never married; died March 1686; buried Williams Family Cemetery (there is no gravestone).
  • Mercy, born July 15, 1640; married Resolved Waterman in 1659 in Providence, then Samuel Winsor on January 2, 1676; died September 19, 1705; buried Williams Family Cemetery (there is no gravestone).
  • Daniel, born February 15, 1641; married Rebecca Rhodes on December 7, 1676 in Providence; died May 14, 1712; buried Williams Family Cemetery (there is no gravestone).
  • Joseph, born December 12, 1643…

So far I only can find two interesting stories about Joseph. One is from a letter written by Roger to the governor of Connecticut while Joseph was still a teenager: Roger stated that Joseph was having bouts of epilepsy, which they had treated with tobacco! (Did he become a smoker after that?) The other story, based on his epitaph, was that he fought in King Philip’s War. I don’t know any details of his service, however. (It’s sad to see that the relations with the natives did not remain amicable.)

Joseph married Lydia Olney on December 17, 1669 in Providence. Lydia was the daughter of another original settler of Providence, Thomas Olney. Joseph died on August 17, 1724 and Lydia followed a few short weeks later on September 9. Their clear gravestones are in the Williams Family Cemetery.

  • Joseph and Lydia’s children were:
  • Joseph, born September 26, 1670; died before November 10, 1673.
  • Thomas, born February 16, 1671/72 in Providence; married Mary Blackmar circa 1700; married Hannah Sprague after 1717; died August 27, 1724 in Providence; buried Williams Family Cemetery (there is no gravestone).
  • Joseph, born November 10, 1673 in Providence (more on him below).
  • Mary, born June 1676; married Obediah Brown(e).
  • James, born September 24, 1680 in Providence; married Elizabeth Blackmar (Mary’s sister) circa 1703 in Providence; died June 25, 1757; buried Williams Family Cemetery.
  • Lydia, born April 26, 1683; died 1717 (and as far as I can tell, never married).

The younger Joseph (born 1673) also married a woman named Lydia – Lydia Hearnden (also called Herenden or Harrington). We will call her Lydia H. to avoid confusion with her mother-in-law. Joseph died August 15, 1752 in Providence and Lydia H. in March 1761 in Cranston (since Cranston was formed in 1754, I assume this was not a move). They are listed as buried in the Williams Family Cemetery.

Joseph and Lydia H. had a large family, and their children were:

  • Mercy, born circa 1700 in Providence; married William Randall on April 14, 1720 in Providence.
  • Jeremiah, born April 10, 1698; married Abigail Mathewson, December 24, 1735 in Providence; died April 30, 1789 in Cranston.
  • Mary, born 1702 in Providence; married Francis Atwood, circa 1722.
  • Lydia, born circa 1706 in Providence; married Joseph Randall on March 17, 1726 in Providence.
  • Martha, born circa 1708 in Providence; married John Randall circa 1725.
  • Barbara, born circa 1712 in Providence; married Benjamin Congdon, circa 1731/32; died 1786 in Cranston.
  • Patience, born 1714; married Samuel Dyer in Johnston; died 1774.
  • Freelove, born circa 1719 in Providence; married John Dyer, November 23, 1739 in Providence; died April 1775; buried at what is now St. Ann’s Cemetery in Cranston.
  • Jemima, born in Providence; married Benjamin Potter on December 25, 1735 in Providence; died November 1796.
  • Meribah, married Jabez Brown on October 5, 1730.

And so the Roger Williams connection has been made. I just wish I knew as much about his descendants in my line as I do about him, but that is for further research, I guess!

The Randall Line: From Immigration to George

Now that I have less information on my Randalls, I thought I would give a quick fly-over of the generations between the first Randall in the new World up to George W. Randall, who I covered in my last post. I will just be covering my direct line, not the collaterals. Here we go!

The first Randall was William Randall born circa 1609 in England (thought to be in London, though that may be just where he sailed from). He was the son of Simon Randall and Jane Stephens. When William was 26, he immigrated aboard the ship Expectacon on April 24, 1635. The ship landed in Providence, RI, but William ended up settling in Scituate, MA.

It was in Scituate around 1640 where William married Elizabeth Barstow, daughter of Matthew Barstow and Isobel Hill. She was born around 1619 near Halifax, Yorkshire, England. (Some sources believe that William’s wife’s name was Elizabeth Carver; if anyone has proof arguments in this case, please let me know!) Elizabeth died on December 24, 1672 and William on October 13, 1693, both in Scituate.

William and Elizabeth had a son named William, who was born December 1647 in Scituate. This William moved to Rhode Island and settled in Providence, in the area that is now Cranston, RI (which did not become a town until 1754). He had a grist mill on the west bank of the Pocasset River. He married Rebecca Fowler circa December 1674 or 1675. Rebecca was the daughter of Henry Fowler and Rebecca Newell and was born 1656 in Providence. William died April 11, 1712 and Rebecca on March 23, 1730. It is interesting to note that on October 24, 1702, William freed ” his negro slave” named Peter Palmer for his good service, “to be his own man at his own disposing.” This is my first knowledge of any slave-holding ancestors in my family. I’m glad that William freed Peter, and I wonder whatever became of him.

William and Rebecca were the parents of a son named William, who was born on September 10, 1675 in Providence. It seems that he, like his father, was a miller. He married Abial Wight (who was born on October 8, 1675) on October 8, 1693 (what a birthday present!). William died on July 8, 1742 and Abial on September 2, 1753. Both are buried at St. Ann’s Cemetery, which is located in Cranston. St. Ann’s is obviously a Catholic Cemetery and it was established in the 1850’s. It is a very large cemetery and abuts, among other things, Randall Pond. Perhaps William owned this portion of land and it had become the family cemetery (several generations of their descendants are buried here).

William and Abial had their own son named William (the last one for this line – I promise!), born circa 1695. He married a woman named Mercy Williams (also born around 1695) on April 14, 1720. Her parents were Joseph Williams and Lydia Hearnden (or Herenden or Harrington), and we will be revisiting them in a later post!

I have no idea about William and Mercy’s deaths and burials, but they had a son named Joseph (I assume named after Mercy’s father) circa 1728 in Knightsville, which is a section of current-day Cranston. He married Abigail Westcott (or Westscott) (born circa 1732) in 1750. They eventually moved to Johnston, Providence County, RI where Joseph died on November 25, 1775 (I don’t have a death date for Abigail). As I stated in my post about their son George, their place of burial was moved to Woodlawn Cemetery in Johnston, where generations of Randalls now lie.

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.

Great-Great Grandfather William Armstrong Atwell

This may seem like skipping around a little bit, but I feel the need to write about my great-grandfather’s father before I move on to his siblings. After all, William is what these diverse siblings have in common!

William Armstrong Atwell was the firstborn child and only son of Richard Atwell and Margaret Patterson. He was born at George Street in Lowell, Middlesex County, MA on June 11, 1860. The family moved to various places in Eastern Massachusetts (more on that when I write about his father at a later time), settling for a period in Taunton, Bristol County, MA. There in 1880, twenty-year-old William was working as a machinist at a foundry and machine company. One of the few things I remember my great-grandfather telling me was that his father had three fingers (on which hand, I’m not sure). I have to wonder if that condition may have been a result of this work.

In 1881, the Atwell family moved to Providence, Providence County, RI. Here, William met his future wife, Altie May Williams, daughter of John Williams and Mary Elizabeth Randall. Altie worked as a box-maker, so I’m not sure how the two would have met. Perhaps William was beginning his second career as a musician (specifically, a cornet player) and perhaps Altie saw him perform. In any case, the two were married in Providence on August 24, 1882.

William seemed to retain his job as a machinist in Providence at lease for a short while. In the 1885 Rhode Island census, he listed his occupation as both “machinist & musician”. According to the Providence City Directories that I could find, William was listed as a printer from at least 1895 to 1898 (what kind of printer, I wonder?). After this, he is listed as a musician in all the records I could find.

The city directories and some newspaper articles have given me the most clues about William’s musical career. He play cornet either on his own or with Atwells Orchestra at various local organizations, such as the Central Falls Fire Department and the National Association of Stationary Engineers. From 1907 to the end of his life, William set up the Atwell Entertainment Bureau, which also housed the “Atwell Society Orchestra” and “Atwell Studios” that featured teaching music. In fact, his daughter Winifred was listed as music teacher here from 1908 – 1909.

"Larboard Watch", a song William performed as part of a duet in 1898.  Courtesy Library of Congress.

“Larboard Watch”, a song William performed as part of a duet in 1898. Courtesy Library of Congress.

As I stated in my last post, William and Altie divorced sometime between 1900 (when they are together on the census) and 1905 (when William re-married). I’m not sure of the reason; perhaps William’s career ramping up was a contributing factor. I did find that Altie’s divorced (though listed as widowed) mother Mary had lived with the family throughout the 1890s. Perhaps her moving out was evidence of strain in the household? Their five living children remained in William’s custody and I have no written record of Altie after this time (more on her and her incredible ancestral line in future posts).

Ethel Emma Fane was born around 1879 in England. Her family immigrated to the USA in 1892 and lived in Providence on Pearl Street by 1900. She was the daughter of John and Alice Fane and had a sister Mary, who was only a year younger than Ethel. While Ethel was employed as a “pearl worker”, her sister was a music teacher. I’m sure that although Mary worked at a different location than William, their paths must have crossed in the course of business. Somehow William met Ethel and they were married on June 1, 1905.

Ethel apparently built a relationship with her stepchildren (or at the very least, my great-grandfather Thomas) and became a mother herself on May 14, 1906, when son Wallace John was born. Happiness in the Atwell household did not last a very long time, however. Eventually William’s health deteriorated to a point where he no longer played cornet. Finally, after a week-long illness, William died at home at 197 Longfellow Street on January 24, 1913. He was buried at Oakland Cemetery in nearby Cranston. Ethel made sure his gravestone was inscribed: “In Loving Memory of My Husband, William A. Atwell, 1860 – 1913”.

William and Altie’s children were all grown up and living on their own once William died, so Ethel and Wallace moved back to her parents’ home. Ethel lived with her son at least until he was married to Mildred G. Stubbs in the 1930s, then she appears as a housekeeper and companion to interior designer Ellen Dwinell in 1940. I don’t have any record of Ethel after this point; I’m not even sure where she is buried. In fact, there seems to be so much more to find out about William and his family that once again warrants a research trip to Rhode Island.