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!

Great-Grandfather Thomas Francis Atwell I: Beyond the Navy

I’ve already touched on my great-grandfather’s life with respect to his time in the navy and partly through writing about his wife (my great-grandmother), Eva Christina Lipsett. Now it’s time to dig a little deeper.

Thomas Francis Atwell I was born on October 4, 1891 in Providence, Providence County, RI. He was the fifth child and third son of William Armstrong Atwell and Altie May Williams. I don’t know much about his childhood, other than that his schooling ended with a ninth grade education and that his parents divorced sometime between 1900 and 1905. I’m told that Thomas’ father William could be difficult to get along with, but in spite of that, all the children seemed to remain with him as opposed to Altie after the divorce. When William re-married to Ethel Fane in 1905, Thomas got along well with her and later his half-brother Wallace.

There is a family story that says that things were so bad at home that Thomas lied about his age to join the navy. However, from what I can tell, he enlisted in 1909 when he was eighteen, so I don’t know about the part about lying about his age. Perhaps joining the navy was Thomas’ best option for leaving home once he turned eighteen? In any case, he seems to have begun his naval time at the academy in Newport, Newport County, RI.

We already know that Thomas married Eva on June 30, 1920 in Salem, Essex County, MA. I would love to know how they met; perhaps he had some shore leave in Boston and ran into her somehow? Whether he had any prior relationships, I do not know. I’m sure it would have been difficult to maintain a relationship for very long, being stationed on a ship for great lengths of time. In any case with Eva, it was love; this was obvious in the way my great-grandfather spoke of her even after her death.

Eva + Thomas Atwell in Swampscott, MA, 1959. Author's Collection.

Eva + Thomas Atwell in Swampscott, MA, 1959. Author’s Collection.

As I’ve written before, Thomas and Eva started their family in the 1920s. After a brief time out of the navy in the 1930s, he worked as a superintendent in an office building. Then after his time back in the navy during World War II, Thomas again returned to civilian life and began working for the Lynn Institute for Savings (a bank) in 1947 and continued there until retirement in 1967. Since Eva had died in 1963, the house on Timson Street in Lynn must have seemed too big for him, so he put the house on the market in November 1964 and bought the tiny home on Bulfinch Road that I remember. A few months later, the house on Timson Street was sold.

Although he was retired and downsized, Thomas in no way checked out of life. He still drove around town, and attended Christmas and other family parties that his daughter Eugenie threw. One thing that I discovered was that during the 1970s, he wrote a few letters to the editor of the Boston Herald-American. (I suppose that he also must have written to the Lynn Daily Item, but those archives are not yet online.) Many of the short, pointed letters had a political bent to them, such as properly addressing the President of the United States and anti-union sentiments. One outlined eight ways to “save the U.S.A.”, which would be seen as very conservative (and probably politically incorrect) today. He also wrote about his beloved Boston Red Sox, who he often watched on the TV set in his living room. Mind you, this was deep in the years during the “Curse of the Bambino”.

Thomas lived on his own for many years, but spent the very end of his life in a Lynn nursing home, passing away at the very respectful age of 96. He is buried with Eva at Pine Grove Cemetery in Lynn.

Atwell-Pleau grave, Pine Grove Cemetery, Lynn, MA. Author's collection.

Atwell-Pleau grave, Pine Grove Cemetery, Lynn, MA. Author’s collection.

Military Appreciation: Grandfather George Edmund Pleau

For Military Appreciation Month, I thought I would highlight a few of my military ancestors and relatives. The first is my paternal grandfather, George Edmund Pleau. Yes, the son of George Edmund Pleau (of Rochester) and Bertha Colomy (of Lynn), who I’ve written about before.

By the time Word War II rolled around, not only were my grandfather’s parents dead, but my grandfather was married to Eugenie Beryl Atwell and had a baby son (my father). It seems that George’s young family was living with his in-laws, Thomas Francis Atwell I, Eva Christina (Lipsett) Atwell, and his younger brother-in-law, Thomas Francis Atwell II. A veteran of The Great War, the elder Thomas went back into active duty in the Navy at nearby Boston Harbor (more on that in a future post). Not long after turning eighteen in 1942, the younger Thomas followed his father’s footsteps into the Navy (more on him in the future as well).

For some reason, George did not go into the military right away. Was it because he was newly married? Was there an immediate need for him at home at the beginning of the war? Whatever the reason, he did eventually join the Navy before October 20, 1944 (the date of a picture of him in uniform). (I’m sure being in a family of Navy men and the proximity to Boston Harbor were factors.) While I have not yet found any records prior to his muster rolls on active duty, George must have gone to naval basic training, which I assume was in nearby Newport, Rhode Island. On Friday, March 2, 1945, George boarded the Evarts class destroyer escort, USS Dobler (Hull No. DE-48) in Boston Harbor. The weather was overcast and cold, but warming as the day went on, in spite of a brief snow squall. Perhaps his father-in-law was able to see him off or shake his hand; at the very least, I’m sure Thomas Atwell knew his son-in-law would be boarding the ship that would protect Allied submarines and other ships in the Atlantic.

George Edmund Pleau, October 20, 1944.  Author's collection.

George Edmund Pleau, October 20, 1944. Author’s collection.

I have found exactly three muster rolls for George’s time in the Navy: March 18, March 31, and June 30. During that time, his rank was Seaman, First Class (Gunner’s Mate), and also during that time, the war in Europe ended! (V-E Day being May 8.) I’m not sure exactly when his time on the Dobler concluded. According to Wikipedia, the Dobler went to New London, CT for training duty on July 18 and was finally decommissioned in New York City on September 11, 1945. I assume that one of these two dates was when George disembarked and went home, as the remainder of the war had already come to an end in August. I imagine that George probably saw minimal battle action, if any, considering the point of the war at which he was at sea.

Battle or no, my grandfather received the military honors due him at his death. I remember the American flag draped over his coffin, then carefully folded into a triangle and gently laid in my grandmother’s arms. A special military marker denotes his place of burial at Pine Grove Cemetery in Plot T, Section 3.

George Edmund Pleau Sr.  WWII plaque at Pine Grove Cemetery.  Author's collection.

George Edmund Pleau Sr. WWII plaque at Pine Grove Cemetery. Author’s collection.