Incarceration, transportation, slavery, freedom…

Debtors prison in the 1700s.

Thomas McQueen, son of Dugal McQueen, married a woman by the name of Elizabeth ______ Berry. She is said to have been born in France sometime in the 1700s. Somehow she ended up in England. In 1739 at the Lent term of court in the Oxford Circuit, an Elizabeth Berry, wife of Ambrose Berry, was sentenced to transportation to America for seven years for theft at St. Aldate[’s street]1 in Oxford. It is believed that this is, quite possibly, our ancestress. We don’t know what she stole or why she did and I am sure the court didn’t much care either. We also do not know if her husband was alive or around when she was arrested or transported.

Transportation of convicts to America by the British started as early as 1610 and continued until the American Revolution. It was about 10 or so years later that England started sending their convicts to Australia. (In the meantime, male convicts were confined to hard labour on prison hulks2 on the Thames, and the women were imprisoned.)

When England started transporting its convicts, the reason touted about was the belief that the sentence would reform the criminals. But most everyone knew it was merely a ruse to just get rid of them. The first transportation act was passed in 1718 and allowed the courts to sentence felons to seven years transportation to America.

While Elizabeth waited for her court date she sat in prison.

Prisons in England in the 1700s were mostly unregulated institutions. In fact they were usually privately owned by: franchises, individuals, or municipal corporations. The location of the prison could be the cellar of a business, an old castle, or a courthouse dungeon. However, while the locations might differ, the things they all had in common were the appalling conditions and complete lack of care for the prisoners. In fact, everyone was locked up together without regard to sex, age, type of crime, or sanity. These places were overcrowded pits of disease, death, and despair.

Because a large majority of these ‘prisons’ had not been built for holding prisoners, there was a universal use of irons, straight-jackets and chains by jailers to keep the prisoners confined. At one prison the jailor secured his prisoners by chaining them on their backs to the floor, putting an iron collar about their necks that contained spikes, then placing an iron bar over their legs.

Jailers were not paid for their employment. Instead they relied on bribes, tips, and fees to make their livelihood. They profited from the sale of gin, acted as pimps, and charged inmates fees if they wanted to be released from their chained confinement, for a short amount of time. These conditions, of course, attracted the most vile of people to the job. This also meant that imprisonment could be a life sentence. If your sentence was up but your fee wasn’t paid ‘for services rendered’ you weren’t released until it was. Life in prison could happen to those who were merely waiting on their day in court, and then were pronounced innocent.

The merchants who shipped these convicts off to America made a fortune for themselves, and the plantation owners who bought them made a fortune on cheap labor. Many convicts died on the trip over and more died from the treatment they received from their ‘owners’. Many of the women who were transported to the colonies were used as prostitutes/mistresses to meet the demands of the men, whether they were willing or not. Those who were able to escape being prostituted worked for the managerial class.

Happily, for us, Elizabeth survived the horrors of her incarceration, her dreadful transportation to America, and her 7 years of slavery indentured servitude (unless she ran away! You go girl!).

By about 1755 Elizabeth was married to Thomas McQueen3, (both were of Baltimore), son of Dugal, who had been transported to America as a Scottish prisoner of war in 1716.

1 A search of the internet shows that St. Aldate is actually St. Aldate’s Street in Oxford, England.
2 These hulks were old navy ships anchored along the banks of the Thames.
3 Researchers have been unsuccessful in finding a marriage record for them, but their first known child was born in 1756.

The jitney problem…

A jitney bus about 1924. Image from Wisconsin Historical Society.

One memory that stands out for me from when we lived in Manila, was the jeepney busses (similar to jitneys) that drove around the city, with all the bright colors and decorations, which included fringe and beads hanging from the windows. They were pretty cool to watch, especially when you are a kid.

Who would have thought that my grandfather would have been part of the jitney craze that hit America in the nineteen teens and continued until about 1923.

The jitney business, (according to a 1915 article I found1), is said to have originated in the southwest, due to the recession which broke out just after WWI, and is believed to have started because of a street car service strike. An intrepid businessman seeing folks in need, took the opportunity to make a few extra nickels in a poor economy by charging them for a ride in his automobile. They were called ‘jitneys’ because they cost a nickel to ride, and slang for a nickel at the time was ‘jitney’.

This idea took hold like wildfire, spreading across the country with great enthusiasm. It apparently also caused massive headaches for local city councils who were wholly unprepared for the problems this craze would cause. Problems like congestion and increased street accidents. Local trolley lines and chartered transportation companies began losing money as a very fast clip as fewer folks were using their systems. City officials and public utility commissioners were now tasked with the necessity of regulating the ‘rampant individualism’ that was causing such havoc on their streets.

Fleets of automobiles were appearing unexpectedly on local streets and not conforming to any regulations. Anyone who was unemployed, wanted to change jobs, had an automobile, regardless of skill or experience, was getting into the business. Street accidents became frequent due to congestion, defective automobiles, reckless driving, and competition amongst drivers.

The railroads, trolley lines and taxi companies with franchises to protect, were all solidly against the jitney. In some cities councils, sensitive to the ‘established order’ of their towns attempted to legislate the jitney out of business. One way this would work was to make jitney owners responsible for any accidents they are involved in.

Wisconsin newspaper article talking about one of the reasons jitneys were starting to die out at this time,
they were becoming too expensive to run.
Some of the advantages of the jitney as opposed to the other modes of transportation available to folks were: quicker service, a more comfortable and cleaner ride, cheaper, and not as noisy. Jitneys could provide service to suburban and interurban areas. Transportation strikes would never affect the drivers, they weren’t in a union. They also helped make a city prettier by eliminating the need for trolley poles and lines. The nickels spent for the ride generally stayed local. And, hey, chauffeur!
The jitney definitely made big business sit up and take notice, their strap-hanging public had an alternate mode of transportation and were using it.
I have no idea how long Clarence ran his business or where in Wisconsin this happened. But I am sure hoping that I can find out.

The craze had many a song written about it.
1 The Jitney Bus Problem, by E. S. Koelker, page 87; The Wisconsin Municipality, volume XV, January to December, 1915; Madison, Wisconsin.



Stories from Norway…

Here is the first page of the bydebøk that starts the
journey into my Amundsen family line.

One day last fall I spent a few hours online trying to find a way to purchase the bygdebøker for Ullensvang in Norway. This is where Amund Amundson came from. I had looked at these books while in Salt Lake City, but I wanted my own set to mark up to my hearts content, and because I am unable to interlibrary loan them. (So started a crazy, and expensive, process that finally ended two weeks ago–but that’s not important now.)

Anyway, I found a museum in Norway that I could purchase the books from, and the two volumes arrived after Christmas. Added incentive for my purchasing the books from the museum was that they would also send me a .pdf file of the english translation of the books. No surprise to anyone that knows me, but I don’t speak, write, or understand Norwegian. In no time at all I was carefully going through the two volumes and entering data into my family tree.

It took a good week, but I have finally filled out the family tree on Amund’s side. Now, I didn’t willy-nilly accept the data from the books, because that would be foolish. Once I had all the information entered into my database I proceeded to find the original vital records to confirm and compare. I have to say that these particular volumes of bygdebøker, are very accurate when compared to the original source material. I found very few errors, and those found were minor date issues.

Not only do the bygdebøker give information on: who is living on the farm, who married who, when were folks were born or died etc.; they also share bits of history that are known about the families and the farms. So that is what I will am sharing today. In no particular order.

  • Around 1650 while celebrating at a christening feast in Jåstad, Samson Aslakson of Åse was stabbed to death by an easterling[?]. (I have no idea if the term is correct or just translated improperly). Possibly a little too much partying. He left a widow, Guro Oldsdatter, and three children of whom Ola Samsonson is our ancestor. 
  • Sjur Ivarson is believed to have said, when his future wife, Marita Olsdatter, was carried to her baptism, about 1763, “There they come with she who shall be my wife.” She was 20 years younger than him. But true to his word when she came of age, he came a-courting. But apparently he was taking a bit too long to come to the point so Marita gave him a little push. “And I have never regretted it.” she said later, “I have been as lucky as a person can be.” Sjur in his youth served at Captain Knagenhjelm’s at Helleland, where he became interested in the fruit cultivation industry and proceeded to become a pioneer in business. 
  • Helga Simonsdatter, born around 1658, was known as “beautiful Helga.” She was the last “light girl” where on St. Lucy’s Day, (in Scandinavia Lucy is called Lucia), she is represented as a woman in a white dress and red sash with a crown or wreath of candles on her head.
  • Erling Jonson, born in the mid to latter part of the 1500s, is believed to have made violins or fiddles. There was one in the Valdres Museum with the initials E.J.S., but it was destroyed in a fire.

Fiddles from Norway made in the 1600s, possibly like the one Erling is thought to have made.
  • Tore Olson, born 1695, was conscripted as a soldier in 1715. “Died in 1742. Killed by a rock.” (Sorry but this one makes me crack up every time I read it and I don’t know why. ‘Cause that ain’t really funny.) While reading through the little bits of history about Ullensvang it is apparent that rock slides and avalanches were, and maybe still, are a great hazard to the folks that lived in the area. 
Perhaps, in the spirit of romance, Tore or Sjur were part of a Norwegian ski-infantry during their military service.
(The Norwegian military has held skiing competitions since the 1670s. The sport of biathlon was developed from military skiing patrols.)
  • Anna Andersdatter is believed to have died giving birth to her 17th child. Only 3 lived to adulthood. 
  • Continuing Anna Andersdatter’s family, her son, Anders Pederson, was so big and strong he was known as “The Norwegian bear.” He is believed to have become a minister and died in the eastern counties of Norway at a young age. 
  • Brita Oddmundsdatter was born in the latter part of 1500s. According to family tradition, she was very strong and “manly,” she transported the lumber to Føynes herself when they started building there. 
  • Torkjell Person, born in 1638, was a real piece of work. He was summoned to court in 1664 for having mistreated his servant girl. First he whipped her, then he had her bound to a sled attached to a horse. He proceeded to jump on the horse and dragged the sled to the sea. In 1666 he was again in court for whipping Per Albrektson and kicking Per’s wife. Thankfully Torkjell died at the age of 30. One can only imagine how he treated his own family. 
  • And saving the best for last — Vigleik Oddson was “very foolish and simple-minded,” almost an idiot, as was his sister Begga Oddsdatter, both were born in the mid 1700s. They had a child together in 1773 and were brought to court for the crime of incest. The verdict was that they should be beheaded by sword. Thankfully, because the judge was aware that they were hardly fully compos mentis, the verdict was “referred to the King’s mercy.” The child was sent away and never heard from again. We do not know how things ended for Vigleik and Begga as they are never again mentioned in the local records.
Here is a lovely Norwegian embroidered bed carpet from the 1600s. Just ‘cuz.

What about the ex…

A case of researching the ex-spouse to solve a mystery.

I have known that my paternal Grandfather Clarence John had been married previous to my Grandmother Myrtle for many years. I even knew that they had had a daughter together. But it wasn’t until a few years ago that I was able to find the name of his first wife, which happened while I was going through newspaper articles from Forest County, Wisconsin. In the paper was the announcement that Clarence had married in Illinois to Esther Edwards. (My father had at one time known her name, which he had found out when an uncle of his died and she or her daughter was mentioned as a beneficiary, but over time he had forgotten it.)

For my father, finding out that Clarence had a wife previous to his own mother, Myrtle, was quite a big shock, as was the fact that he had a half-sister he never met! Clarence had done a pretty good job of keeping it a very closely guarded secret from his own children, but everyone else in the family knew her and their daughter, and had even kept in touch with them over the years.
The big questions I wanted to answer were: when did this first marriage end, and where? To do this I first needed to find out more about Esther, because research on Clarence hadn’t helped. During earlier research attempting to pin down when they might have been divorced, I had found her in 1930 living with her father and Marie (the half-sister) in White Lake. The census did indicate she was divorced, but, I still didn’t know where or when. I had tried to find a divorce for them in Forest County, but no luck. I decided to continue the search further ahead in time, so I went to the 1940 census. Bingo! There she was in White Lake, with Marie, only now she is married to an Oscar Christenson and they have two daughters of their own. This was excellent news, because, usually, on these later marriage records there is a question regarding any previous marriages. As my niece lives in Antigo I asked her to drop by the register of deeds office and see if she could find the marriage in question. A few days and a text later, there it was in black and white: previously married to Clarence John, divorced October 28, 1923 in Merrill, Lincoln County, Wisconsin, the answer to both of my questions. Now I could also breath a sigh of relief, because my grandfather had definitely not been married when he met my grandmother.
Marriage certificate for Esther and Oscar.

But of course it didn’t stop there. My first thought was, “Wow, only married a year and a half-ish. What went wrong?” The clerk of courts in Lincoln county informed me that they had divorce records from 1926 and on a little late for me. So I searched ArCat (the Wisconsin Historical Society Archives Catalog) then contacted the UW Stevens Point Area Research Center, (which holds records from Lincoln County) and asked them to sent me the case file for Clarence and Esther John/s from Lincoln County. Four days later it arrived.
The file isn’t big. Probably because Clarence never showed up in court to contest the petition or testify, even though he had been summoned to do so.
Here is the complaint:

Esther E. John vs. Clarence John
1. That she and the defendant were married at Waukegan, Ill., on January 10th, 1922; that she has been a resident of the State of Wisconsin all her life. 

2. That there has been born as the issue of said marriage, one child, a girl, named Gertrude Marie; that said child is now nine months of age. 

3. That beginning shortly after said marriage the defendant began a course of cruel and inhuman treatment towards this plaintiff and that some of his acts are as follows: That three months after said marriage he struck her in the face with his fist and caused her to have a black eye; that he repeatedly struck her [‘and kicked her’ is marked out]; that he has sworn at her frequently and called her indecent names and accused her of infidelity and has slandered her by telling untrue and indecent things about her character.
      That ever since said marriage, the parties hereto made their home with the parents of the plaintiff on an agreement that defendant was to pay one-half of the expenses of running the household and furnish the wood; that he failed to carry out this agreement; that he failed to provide her with sufficient money to support herself and said child and she was obliged to look to her father and mother for sufficient funds wherewith to maintain and clothe herself and said child and was also obliged to use a part of her savings which were on deposit in the bank at White Lake, Wis; that she had an edowment insurance policy made payable to him on which a premium became due shortly after said marriage and he refused to pay the same and she was obliged to pay it out of her savings; that at Christmas time, 1922, he gave her no money wherewith to purchase necessitites for any Christmas remembrances and she was obliged to use her own funds for such purpose; that shortly before March 1st, 1923, he was abusing her and continued the same for a period of about one week, [‘when he left home and she did not know his whereabouts for two or three days’ – lined out] and finally on March 1st, 1923, he left her and they have not lived together as husband and wife since said date; that he is lazy and when he does get work, he cannot hold a job on account thereof; that a part of the time he runs a Jitney line; that after March 1st, about May 1st, she was obliged to enter a hospital in Antigo on account of sickness and previous to that during March and April while she was sick at home he did not call on her or see her or inquire about her condition, so far as plaintiff knows, and saw her only once during all of the time she was in said hospital; that he refused to pay her doctor bill or store bill or hospital bill until compelled to pay the doctor’s bill by law, and she was obliged to pay the store account and nurses’ bill and paid $70.00 hospital bill for the time she was in said hospital at Antigo.

4. That defendant is a strong and able bodied man and has earned at common labor, $3.50 per day and while in his Jitney business earned at least $5.00 per day net; that plaintiff has had some training as a clerk and stenographer and is capable of earning good wages but on account of her recent sickness will not be able to secure a position for a period of about six months; that she has, at all times, kept her marriage vows; that since his desertion of her, on March 1st [1923], she has been obliged to  a part of the time, pay for the care of said child; that she has not sufficient money or means of her own wherewith to carry on this action or support said child.
5. That plaintiff’s maiden name was Esther E. Edwards; that no prior action of divorce has been commenced or is now pending between the parties hereto.
     WHEREFORE, plaintiff demands judgment for a divorce from the bonds of matrimoney existing between her and the defendant; for custody of said child; that defendant be required to pay the attorney’s fees and costs in this action and provide a suitable amount weekly, for the support of said child; to repay her the $70.00 which she paid the Antigo hospital; for the restoration of her maiden name and for such other and further relief as may be just. (here is the whole case file in pdf)

The divorce was granted on October 24th (not 28th as Esther indicated on her marriage certificate, a minor quibble). They weren’t officially divorced until a year after that date though.
Esther and Clarence were married in early January of 1922. Gertrude Marie was born in early August of 1922. Which means that Esther could quite possibly have been pregnant when they married. I do not know if Marie was premature, by about a month, or not. So, if they did marry because she was pregnant, it is quite possible that they married for the usual wrong reasons, and as so often happens in these cases, it didn’t work out for them.
I have a hard time believing that my Grandfather would behave in such a manner. Granted, I never knew him. But nothing I had ever heard about him indicated he would commit these kinds of acts.  However, one has to remember when reading this testimony that before the advent of no-fault divorce in the United States, a divorce could only be obtained by showing one party to be at fault in the marriage. It meant that one spouse had to plead that the other had: committed adultery, abandoned the family, or (one I have seen in many divorce cases in my years at the archives), committed cruel and inhuman acts, which usually included physical, mental and verbal abuse, even if none of this occurred during the marriage. Many American lawyers and judges were advocates of no-fault divorce because they wanted to eliminate the need for perjury in the court by the parties involved in the cases, where they wanted out of a marriage for a variety of other reasons that weren’t deemed acceptable in court. By 1985 all but New York had adopted some form of no-fault divorce, it wasn’t until 2010 that New York finally passed a no-fault divorce bill.
So one does have to take these early divorce testimony records with a grain of salt. He could quite possibly be guilty of some of these charges, including his failure to pay bills. He was the oldest son, so he was probably a bit spoiled, and he was barely in his mid-20s at the time of his marriage, and divorce, so he might have had some growing up to do yet.

For me the mystery is finally over. One case solved, of the many remaining. In fact, comparatively speaking, this one was a piece of cake, once I settled down to solving it. Of course now I want to know all about this Jitney business!