Mad Hatter…

About 3 years after John Brooks, sr. died, (1815), we find that Dinah* Smith Brooks, my 4x great grandmother is now married to a gentleman by name of Robert Little. They married about 1817, and had one child that we are aware of, Jane Ann Little, who was born about a year later.

Robert had arrived in Albany, not long before he married Dinah1, and he was at least 10 years older than her2, maybe even more. To support his new family of: wife, daughter and 5 step-children, Robert made his living as a hatter, an occupation he was in for at least 6 years in Albany, (and maybe even longer if he was in the trade before he moved to Albany). By 1824 he had quit the hatting trade and now he was making living as a grocer.

The last time we find Dinah and Robert living together is in the 1826 Albany directory, there is no entry for them in 1827-1829, and the next time we see Dinah (1830 census), she is living with her children and working as a tailoress. There is no sign of Robert.

However, I do know that Robert died 27 Dec 1845, because Dinah mentions it in her application for a pension from her first husband’s military service. The interesting thing about what she said though, is that he died in the city’s almshouse.

I have no clue why the two were no longer sharing an abode. Dinah kept the Little surname until she died, so I don’t know if they had divorced, or if she had just kicked him out. No clue. But I can speculate about possible reasons for why they might have no longer been living together and it is Robert’s occupation as a hatter that might have had something to do with it.

Here is an image of hatters at their job in the 1800s.3

For at least six years and maybe longer, Robert was making hats. An occupation that was extremely dangerous at this time, because of prolonged exposure to mercury vapors that was an occupational hazard.

The felting of animal fur for hats was a popular construction method, this felting required the use of mercuric nitrate to treat the animal fur. This treatment removed the fur from the skin, and felted it so that it could then be formed into the shape needed to construct the hat.

The vapors from mercury are very toxic, and workrooms were never properly vented which is why we had the illness that we know as ‘mad hatters disease’, or ‘hatter’s shakes,’ and the famous expression ‘mad as a hatter.’

The symptoms of this illness manifest as: red cheeks, fingers, and toes; bleeding from the mouth and ears; rapid heartbeat and high blood pressure; intense sweating; loss of hair, teeth, and nails; blindness and loss of hearing; impaired memory; lack of coordination; disturbed speech patterns; trembling and sputtering; and birth defects. Hat makers often acted loopy, or excessively shy one moment and highly irritable the next. All-in-all not a very healthy occupation.

It is possible that these symptoms manifested in Robert in some way or another and contributed to the demise of their marriage. He might have had other problems too, but again we would only be guessing. For his own health and sanity it was a good thing that he changed his trade to that of a grocer, but the change didn’t appear to help, as by 1830 Dinah and Robert’s marriage was kaput.

By the time Robert died in 1845, in an almshouse, he was anywhere from 70 years of age and older. I can not find him in directories after 1826. So maybe he ended up in the almshouse or an asylum by 1830 and spent the rest of his years there. Which might be why Dinah appears to have never divorced him.

Even though Robert is not related to me by blood, he did have a daughter with my grans so he is family. It makes me sad that he died in an almshouse, his family having abandoned him. But I can only speculate on the family dynamics at the time, and there might have been a very good reason for the split. I surely would love to know that story.

Tea anyone?

*Today I am using Dinah, we see her name as both Dinah and Diane in various records.

1. He doesn’t show up in Albany directories until 1818 and according to his daughter’s 1870 census entry, he was foreign born, but according to 1880 census he was born in New York.
2. According to 1820 census for Robert Little he was 45+ and Diana was about 33/34, which we know from her pension application file.
3. Image pulled from Wikipedia entry regarding mad hatter disease.


February 27, 1943 William Shepard to home…


Pendleton Field, Ore.
February 27, 1943,

Dear Mother, Father, Herm & Ruth
[Translation – Dear Rachel, William, Herman[brother], Ruth[sister-in-law]]

At last I have time to write. Everything is going along alright as it can go. I am learning an entirely new job. I have studied for everything except transportation. I have a swell bunch of men to work with. About 125 of them. $500,000 to $750,000 worth of equipment. I have charge of the repair and dispatching of all the vehicles and the record keeping, many of my men are non-commissioned officers who have at least 2 years service. Im in a good outfit.

My box arrived, thank gosh. Ill send you some pictures of me in my field equipment soon. You know the pack an’ everything. I was issued a pack, bedroll & a lot of equipment. Sure is good stuff. I think I’ll bring it home with me if I can.

On some of my trucks & jeeps I have 30 calibre  & 50 calibre machine guns. They sure are “honeys”. Ill bet they could puncture a jap[nice language gramps!] to suit anones[anyone’s?] taste.

The weather has cleared up here. When I first came here is was foggy all day, but now


It is clear.

The other day I had a car break down way up in the “Rockies”. I sent  a wrecker crew up and decided to drive up myself. It was a beautiful drive. 2 ft snow on the mountains and what scenery. It is beautiful out here.

Lois will be coming out in a few weeks, as soon as I can find a place. Homes are hard to find and rent is high, but I want her to come out and she want to.

Say mom how about getting the insurance straightened out for me & write & tell me how it is. I want to pay it myself and would prefer to pay the General office wherever it is. Fix it so I can pay it up quarterly, and send me the data.

Well I’ll close wishing I could see you all.


The Warmongering Wessels…

I mentioned in an earlier post Willem Hoffmire, my Brazilian born German ancestor from the 1600s. Well, this is the story of his mother Geertruy Hieronimus and her second husband Jochem Wessels, Willem’s step-father.

Jochem was know as “Jochem Gijssen Wesselszen” and “Jochem Wesselse Backer.” Backer meaning baker, as that was his skill and trade. Geertruy, whom he married sometime before 1652, was his second wife. His first wife having died.

Number 22 on the map is the location of Jochem and Geertruy’s bakery and home in Albany, or as it was know when they lived there, Beverwyck [pronounced Bayvervike].
Thankfully the story of Geertruy and her second husband, Jochem can be told through court records, of which this couple have plenty in early Beverwyck, as they were very aggressive in pursuing personal justice from anyone whom they felt slighted or abused by.

Most of their court records start to appear in the spring of 1652, when Capt. Willem Juriaens decided to close up his baking shop, which happened to be located right next door to the Wessels bakery. No doubt the Wessels were quite relieved to be rid of the competition. Their sigh of relief was short lived however, as the Capt. sold the house and lot to Jan Van Hoesen, with the agreement that they would house and feed him. In return he would teach them the baking trade.

Jochem didn’t wait for the competition to steal his customers he went out and aggressively procured them. Geetruy’s reaction was more personal. She was concerned about being able to feed her brood of children, from both of her marriages, so didn’t appreciate having another bakery operating next door competing for business. She went out one April day found Van Hoesen’s wife Volckgen, and said,

“You’re a low women and I can prove it.” Then she doubled up her fist and struck the other women with everything she had.

The next day a deputy arrived at the Wessels’ home and told Geertruy she was to accompany him to court, which was in a two-story frame building with a pavilion roof close to Fort Orange. She went up the steep stair and entered through the trap door at the top into the one big room on the second floor. About six burghers from the town were sitting waiting. One of them informed her that she was in their presence because of the complaint of Volckgen Van Hoesen who was charging her with abusive language and assault.

Geertruy, whose method of solving problems was pretty much always the same, was surprised that this time it hadn’t worked. She became resentful and annoyed that she had to go through the court. So she stated pretty much the same to the burghers that she had to Volckgen, with much added colorful embroidery. Then she proceeded to threatened each of the burghers in the room personally if they tried “any nonsense with her.” The court record ends with the following statement:

“The defendant for her abusive language and assault and threats made here against the court condemned to pay a find of six guilders, with order to leave the plaintiff henceforth in peace.”

Things might have gone along peacefully if the court hadn’t decided shortly thereafter to assign the Capt.’s lot to the Van Hoesens permanently. This enraged Jochem so much he built a pigsty in front of the Van Hoesens’ front door. A few days later the court made comment:

“It is decided that whereas the said baker…had constructed an obstruction and nuisance to the house of the aforesaid Jan Van Hoesen it is ordered that he must within the time of three days tear down the said pigsty.”

Jochem had in mind a different way to solve the problem after hearing the courts decision. He went home, buckled on his sword, ran to the courthouse, and up the stairs waving his blade about, calling the Magistrate names and demanding he come out and fight like  man.

Several days later the court met in an extraordinary session to hear the Magistrate’s changes against Jochem, which they decided are serious enough for the authorities in Manhattan to handle. Later in the day they had to meet again because Jochem had been going around town, telling anyone who would listen, that they had rushed the morning session so that they could let Van Hoesen know what they had done to Wessels, his archenemy. The court decided that Jochem would have to prove this accusation or suffer an “arbitrary sentence.”

Geertruy, was not sitting idly by during Joachim’s bouts of insanity, she had been busy verbally harassing Volckgen. Again. The court fined Geertruy 50 guilders this time because she couldn’t prove any of her accusations against Volckgen. However, not at all daunted, Geertruy decided on another tact. This time she would bait Vockgen into attacking her, with no witnesses nearby to prove otherwise. The court was of course suspicious of Geertruy’s story and fined both women 12 guilders each, with the admonition that

“Parties on both sides are furthermore ordered to hold their tongues and to leave each other in peace, as otherwise the court will take such measure was shall be found necessary.”

By the beginning of the new year [1653] Jochem thought up a new charge for his neighbor, that they were occupying the house and lot illegally and it still really belonged to the Capt. But because he could not provide any evidence to this he had to withdraw the suit, but not without whispering it about that the chief magistrate had offered Van Hoesen ownership of the house for a bribe of 3 beavers. The Van Hoesens answered the attack by throwing hot ashes and glowing embers against the Wessels’ home. The court had to intervene to make them stop.

During this time, in Manhattan, rumblings were being heard about the quality and weight of the bread that Jochem was baking. These complaints being that they were making tasty baked goods for the Indians (things like sugar buns, cookies, pretzels), because they were willing to pay a higher price, and the rest of the townspeople are getting the bran. So of course the immediate response was to make it illegal to sell white bread and cakes to the Indians. The Beverwyck bakers complained but got no where, Stuyvesant sent a representative to make sure his regulation was enforced.

Jochem, of course, had no intention of obeying the law. He immediately went to work baking up some tasty goods, went outside the front of his shop and blew his big horn advertising to the Indians that his wares were ready for sale. (By the way, he still hadn’t pulled down the pigsty in front of his neighbor’s door.) He didn’t get away with this behavior though, the court fined him 50 guilders, but the representative from Manhattan was not satisfied with this fine. Jochem’s long list of crimes were enumerated to the court: slander, attacking a magistrate, false accusations, refusal to move the pigsty, charging chief magistrate with soliciting a bribe; the court added a fine of 100 guilders to the previous amount, and if this was not paid in 24 hours then the fine would double, etc.

All the animosity with the Van Hoesens ended unexpectedly. The Capt., who had promised to teach the Van Hoesens the bakery trade, had reneged on his deal. The Van Hoesens could no longer be competition as they really didn’t have a bakery to compete with the Wessels. Happy, happy, joy, joy.

But the Wessels were an argumentative pair, it wasn’t long before Jochem was in trouble again. Over chickens. Jacob Willemsz testified that he had seen Jochem chasing some sitting hens off their nests and had yelled at Jochem to stop, they were the Capt.’s hens. Jochem answered by calling on Jacob to come outside and fight, when Jacob prudently declined his kind offer, Jochem grabbed him but the throat and beat him. Jacob of course defended himself and responded blow for blow. Jochem was again fined. Another incident has him shooting and killing Hendrick Andreessen’s dog, no reason was given. But as he promised to have a young dog trained and delivered to the plaintiff, his only other fine in the incident was a beaver. Geertruy didn’t like this at all and became so angry she shouted “abusive and slanderous words” at the magistrates. She had to appear in court later for her abuse.

Gerrit Van Slichtenhorst, who had been in court for selling brandy to the local Indians, and against whom Jochem had testified, picked a fight with Jochem while they were gathering firewood. Gerrit went after Jochem with an ax, so Jochem ran home to get his sword and chased Gerrit up the street into the house of Thomas Paul. Thomas managed to get Jochem to give up his sword at which time Gerrit jumped on his disarmed foe. Jochem managed to get on top and attempted to mutilate and maul Gerrits ‘manly bits’ when finally onlookers were able to pull the men apart. Garret ran to his house to get a cutlass and chased after Jochem who was heading home. No one was badly injured and both were fined for their temper tantrums.

The last big flare up was when a Capt. Baker made reference to Geertruy as being a ‘loose women’. Abraham Staats was one of the gentleman on the court, Jochim and Geertruys son-in-law. Baker produced an affidavit from Claes Wip, the town drunk in support of his accusation. Jochem produced one from the same drunk, stating the complete opposite. The court decided that therefore the matter was dropped.

There were many other incidents in town regarding Jochem and Geertruy as they were definitely not pillars of society. They were both havey-cavey, cheats, sneaky, would do anything to make a buck, and liars. They were also definitely characters. I can just hear the sighs of the gentlemen at court when their names would come up, again, in the docket.1

So this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for those ancestors whose crazy lives make doing this research so much fun.

Source for the full details of the Wessels:
1. Carmer, Carl, Skinner, Constance Lindsay, and Wengenroth, Stow. The Hudson / by Carl Carmer; Illustrated by Stow Wengenroth. Rivers of America; Editor, Constance Lindsay Skinner. 1939. [chapter 5] UW Oshkosh Polk Library, Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

February 24, 1943 William Shepard to home


Pendelton Field
February 24, 1943

Dear Mom,

Enclosed is my income tax return and the $4.00 I owe on it. Please take it or send it immediately to the place you took or sent Dads. This is important because it must be in.

Everything is O.K. except that Im busy. The country here is beautiful. I know you all would like it.

I am a transportation officer. The only job I never thought of. I have 80 trucks and about 50 different trailers to supervise. I handle the maintenance ships and dispatching with a force of 90 men. This field isnt so large, only about 2000 men. Ill have to close now and get to work. Write & give my love to everyone. Dont forget to send the tax return in right away


Hart family tragedy…

If the Shepard line of descent from William Shepard is true, then that means that my mother’s side of the family has two HART lines. [I could insert a Vulcan joke here, but I’ll refrain.]

The first is Edmund Hart, father of Experience who married our Shepard immigrant William, (and then divorced his sorry butt for desertion). The second HART line is on the Shaw side of the family through Deacon Stephen Hart of Farmington, Connecticut (crazy Esther Newell strikes again). As far as I have been able to discern, the two lines are not related.

According to the Genealogical History of Deacon Stephen Hart and his descendants…, by Alfred Andrews, Deacon Hart was born in Braintree, England about 1605 and arrived in Massachusetts Bay by 1632. We know next to nothing about the mother of his children, not even her name.

We actually descend from this line three times through the second generation of Harts:
1. Sarah who married Timothy/Thomas Porter
2. John who married Sarah Hawthorne
3. Thomas who married Ruth Howkins

John was the eldest son of the Deacon and his unknown wife. He married Sarah Hawthorne and they resided in Farmington, Connecticut until the family moved to Tunxis, where they were one of the first settlers there.

New England homestead on fire.

It was here that tragedy struck the John Hart family in 1666. Although the story has two versions.

According to the Genealogical History book mentioned above:
…his house, which was located near the center of the village, was fired in the night by Indians, and he and all his family, with the exception of his eldest son, John [about 11 at the time], who was that night at Nod, or Worthington, since called Avon, looking after the stock on a farm they owned there, perished in the flames.

Apparently, in the same fire, the town records were also destroyed. The story continued to say that the General Court tried to find the perpetrators of the crime among the Tunxis tribe but had no luck.

According to the online version of the same book with addendum, a researcher by the name of David Mauro published in the July/August 1997 issue of Hart Historical Notes an article showing that there were no Indians involved. A quote from the story from Dr. C. Pickford of the Connecticut Historical Society states:

“The 19th century accounts of Farmington contain a lot of fiction. Without any corroborating evidence to support Andrews’ story, I had to conclude that is was without substance.”

Andrews being the author of the original Hart book mentioned above.

There was further mention that a Rev.Samuel Danforth a pastor of the first church in Roxbury kept a diary where an entry appears on February 11, 1666:

“Tidings came to us from Connecticut how on ye 15th of 10M66 Sergeant Hart, ye son of Deacon Hart and his wife, and six children were all burned in their house at Farmington, no man knowing how the fire was kindled, neither did any of the neighbors see ye fire till it was past remedy. The church there had kept a fast at this man’s house two days before. One of his sons being at a farm, escaped the burning.”

It is by the will of the fates’ that Stephen’s grandson John was the only family member to survive this horrible incident. I can only imagine how devastating it would have been for him to lose his whole family, and at so young an age.


Genealogical history of Deacon Stephen Hart and his descendants, 1632. 1875 : with an introduction of miscellaneous Harts and their progenitors, as far as known; to which is added a list of all the clergy of the name found, all the physicians, all the lawyers, the authors, and soldiers, by Andrews, Alfred, 1797-1876Hart, Austin1875 []

Addendum version online:

February 3&23, 1943 William Shepard postcards to home…


February 3, 1943

Hello Folks,

Busy today & just time for a line. Ill write a letter Sunday. Weather fine & Im looking for a house & no prospects as yet.

Bye for now


February 23, 1943

Dear Folks

Ill write a letter soon. Im to busy right now to do anything but work. This place sure is wild looking Plenty of wild game. I arrived hear on schedule and was put right to work. The port is OK and Ill like my work here. The weather is foggier than it was at Sacramento if that is possible.



January 31, 1943 William Shepard to home…

letter_shepardw_to_shepardwr_1943_01_31_p01page 1

January 31, 1943

Dear Mother & Father:

How do you like our daughter? I bet that she is as homely as K.W. was at first. Ill have a family when I get home.

Dont you know that you civilians have a hard time of it? I have been wondering how you get along without gas, coffee, sugar and many other things. We have it pretty easy in the army. All the T bones & coffee we want. Funny thing that we dont take advantage of it. Nearly everyone drinks milk and goes easy on meat

letter_shepardw_to_shepardwr_1943_01_31_p02page 2

and sugar.

Dont worry about me looking thin. I weigh about 184# now and seem to be gaining. I have many friends and keep busy.

Say, Lois mentioned something about a package, and I havent received one since Xmas. What was it all about?

Please dont worry about me. Im healthy and happy. If my unit goes overseas Ill be glad to go with it and I wouldnt want you to want me to stay here in a swivel chair. I want to go where I can do some good so I can help end this war.

letter_shepardw_to_shepardwr_1943_01_31_p03page 3

Im not in a dangerous job and its a good place to be. Please dont worry about me. If you want to worry think about the children and mothers of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Greece, France, Norway & Russia. Some never had a chance. If I can help, in my own little way to keep the horrors of war away from my own loved ones I am going to jump at the chance.

I didnt enlist because I thought I would be drafted, it was a convenient excuse. I enlisted because I was afraid of what could happen.

letter_shepardw_to_shepardwr_1943_01_31_p04page 4

You wouldnt want me to be a slacker would you? I see too many men who pull strings to get to stay here. Thats enough though. You understand, Im sure.

I will try to write more often now that my schooling is about over. I finish here Thursday. If I can get a plane home Ill fly, but If I cant, it isnt any use trying to get home on 7 days leave.

Give my love to all
Your son