Third Great-Grandparents Richard and Margaret (Patterson) Atwell

Richard Atwell was born on February 9, 1833, the oldest child of William Atwell and Ann Armstrong. He was most likely born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, although some later censuses say “English Canada” (implying Ontario). He was definitely christened in Montreal that February 17th at the Cathedrale Anglicane, with Robert and Martha Graham as his godparents.

Although Richard isn’t named in records until his marriage, he grew up with at least a younger brother (William) and sister (Ann Jane). He may have helped his father with his grocery business on the corner of Bleury and Dorchester streets.

Margaret Patterson was born around 1831 in Ireland. Much of my information about her comes from her daughter Victoria Eugenie’s (“Aunt Genie”) 1932 letter to my great-grandfather. Margaret’s parents were named Thomas and Margaret, and the family immigrated to Canada in 1841 on the Marchioness of Abercorn. They lived in Matilda, Ontario, Canada (which is now known as South Dundas).

I don’t have any idea how Richard and Margaret might have met. I believe that Margaret herself may have moved to Montreal (perhaps for work?), based on the fact that they were married at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church there on April 27, 1852. I assume that Margaret was the Presbyterian, since Richard had been christened in the Anglican church.

St. Andrews Church, circa 1852, in the left center.  Courtesy Wikipedia.

St. Andrews Church, circa 1852, in the left center. Courtesy Wikipedia.

The earliest record of the Atwells living in the United States was the 1860 Census. Aunt Genie’s letter also states that they moved to the U.S. just that year. They were living in Lowell, Middlesex County, MA. There, Richard worked as a machinist and Margaret took care of baby William Armstrong, born on June 11 that year. To me, the eight years between their marriage and the birth of William seems like a really long time for a nineteenth-century couple to go childless. However, I cannot find any records of any previously-born children (yet).

On September 3, 1864, daughter Caroline L. was born. Some records refer to her as “Carrie”. According to Aunt Genie’s letter, Richard was naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 1867, so Margaret, by virtue of being married to him would have become a citizen as well.

The following year, the Atwell family moved to Ballard Vale, Essex County, MA (which is part of Andover today). This is where Aunt Genie, the youngest, was born that same year. If it weren’t for her letter, I never would have known that the family spent time in Essex County.

Aunt Genie related how the family moved in 1873 to Charleston, Suffolk County, MA, somewhere near the Bunker Hill Monument. They did not remain there long and moved to the Union Market area of Watertown, Middlesex County, MA. The Atwells moved again in 1874 to Taunton, Bristol County, MA. They stayed there for a while as Richard worked as a clerk in a foundry and machine company.

Finally the family moved to Providence, Providence County, RI in 1881, where William would meet his future wife, Altie May Williams. Although the family lived in various homes in Providence, Richard’s job situation was stable, as he worked as a shipping clerk for Brown & Sharpe for the rest of his life.

Brown & Sharp factory, circa 1896.  Courtesy Wikipedia.

Brown & Sharp factory, circa 1896. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Margaret passed away on October 26, 1898, and Richard followed on June 27, 1902. Both are buried in Oakland Cemetery, Cranston, Providence County, RI.

Caroline and Genie never married, but supported each other throughout their lives. Carrie was a home-based dressmaker and Genie, who started as a clerk, became a stenographer. Carrie died in 1927, but Genie lived much longer until January 9, 1940. Both are buried in the same plot as their parents on Oakland Cemetery.

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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.