Calvin & Agnes John

My spouse and I do not have children. It was a choice that we made when we were first married. And we have been quite content with that choice of thirty plus years ago.

I bring this up because I have noticed that one of the ways that choice we made so long ago has influenced my genealogy research, is that I find I like to focus on those ancestral relatives that also didn’t have children, or never married, or even lost the children they did have, before they could have any family of their own. There is no one around who cares to pass on their life story, and many times that is a great loss.

So here I introduce Calvin John and his wife Agnes McDonnell, of Gillett.

Agnes McDonell & Calvin John Wedding Picture 27 April 1904, Oconto Falls, Oconto County, Wisconsin. Courtesy of a cousin.

Calvin is the son of Alfred John and his wife Hattie. I wrote a post, not too long ago, about Calvin and his father having some kind of tiff that ended up in court. But I know nothing of his relationship with his father.

Abt. 1904: Eva, Calvin, Hattie, Alfred, Mildred, and Harriet John family photo.

Calvin was very, very tall. In any picture you see of him he is towering over every other person in it. Can you guess which one is Calvin, in the picture below, without looking at the caption?

Front left-Alfred John; 3rd from right-Calvin John (the tall one!)

Calvin worked in lumber camps his whole life, running, owning, or laboring at them. But Cal wasn’t all work, he could be found in the local paper often as part of the local baseball team, or other types of play.

Calvin was 23 when he married Agnes McDonnell, a local school teacher (who was two years older than him), in 1904. They have a lovely marriage photo (see top). Agnes was the daughter of Daniel and Mary McDonnell, both of whom were from English Canada. Agnes was born in Wisconsin, and had three brothers and one sister that I know about, although admittedly, I haven’t researched her family at all.

They also had a pretty good sized farm. (You can click on the images to see them better.)

We don’t know if, or how much, Agnes, as an Irish Catholic girl, regretted that they had no children, or Calvin either. They would probably have been great parents.

In March of 1958 a tragic accident put an end to both of their lives. I found the following Milwaukee Journal newspaper article, which gives few details about the event that occurred on the 28th. Not much can be gleaned from this except that they were just another statistic for the state to compile.

But thankfully, it wasn’t long after that a local woman wrote a lovely tribute to the pair for the local Gillett newspaper. ‘This article is found in the Gillett Times, Gillett In Milwaukee, by M. Burse:

And now a small tribute to two near and very dear friends, Mr. and Mrs. Calvin John “Calvin and Ag”, as they were known to the entire community, and far beyond. 

The writer has known them as long as she can remember and that’s a long, long time. Their parents and my parents having been pioneers of Oconto County. 

No Gillett then, no trains. There was a stage that turned northward at North Branch (the old McDonald Farm). Oconto was the nearest city, to which they thought nothing of making the trip on foot. But they settled there, in small log houses and carved their homes out of the vast wilderness. Grandpa John was a Civil War Veteran, and thus we younger ones grew up together —Agnes and Aunt Mary, one half mile between our homes, and one week’s difference in our ages. We grew up together, went to school together, and began teaching school at the same time. She was a brilliant student, and in fact could do just about everything. She was a wonderful person-and good kind was her equal in everything —ambitious, energetic, honest and true. 

They were an ideal couple. Lacking one month, their married life’ counted up to fifty four years. — fifty four very happy years. It was such a beautiful home to go to, they were so kind and good to each other and those around them. The home atmosphere was so happy and peaceful. The both worked hard and always together. 

They died as they lived — close together, which, tho sudden, and tragical’ (sp), almost had a beautiful side to it —they went together. 

As long as the writer can remember, Calvin owned a good driving horse and buggy. He was a prize winning horseback rider and always on July 4th, when the entire community turned out for the celebration  in “Helmke’s Grove” one of the features of entertainment was the horseback riders race, which Calvin always entered, and always won first place. Agnes was an expert rider also, and one year, later on—long after Calvin and Agnes were married, and the celebration, July 4th. was in the Gillett Park — ‘The Harvest Festival’ it was —for some reason Calvin was not riding, so his racer was without a rider, until Agnes stepped forward and took over. She went down that race track like a streak —winning first place, and keeping Calvin’s record still at the top. 

When we were still in grade school, and played baseball during recess, and at noon, boys and girls together, Agnes was always the first one chosen. They would always choose sides and place the players before we started. She could hit surer, drive father, and go around that diamond like the wind. 

Calvin’s baseball days are well remembered. One year his Gillett team were straight winners throughout the season. Nearing the end of the season, they were challenged for a game with Green Bay, to be played at Green Bay. An excursion train was put on to run from Gillett to Green Bay —and it was filled to capacity. During the game Calvin made a spectacular play, putting out his man—by catching an extra high ball. Comments could be heard from the Green Bay team, about his being too tall. One man said “He could be stuck into the ground up to his knees and he’d still be tall enough to play”. Agnes quickly answered him’ “Yes, put him in up to his armpits and he could still defeat you”. Calvin’s team did win that game too. 

Their charity was unlimited. No needy one was ever turned away from their door—if it was work they sought, Calvin would find something for them to do, it” not with his’ crew then something on the farm — and Agnes, with a good meal for anyone who was hungry. 

I’m sure our Divine Lord had their record books balanced highly in their favor when they were called Home. They were truly good kind people, with friends everywhere, for —

None knew them but to love them,
None named them, but to praise 

Gillett will not be the same without them. Their going leaves an awful vacancy, but the Good Lord was ready for them—and took them together. “Tho their sudden deaths were a great shock to their near and dear ones, and their hosts of friends, it was comforting to know they were together, and we feel that Our Good Lord had an extra special place for them, and that He met them with this kindly greeting’ —“Well done, my good and faithful servants, come to your home of eternal bliss, that I have prepared for you.”

Then funeral arrangements were beautiful. Everything being done as near as possible to what “Ag and Calvin’” would want, by their near and dear loved ones. It just seemed nothing was left undone. Calvin’s services were conducted in their home by Rev. Simon, whose words were most comforting with soft music, and beautiful singing by three ladies, Mrs. Stanley Korotev was the only familiar face in the trio. Then the funeral procession wended its way to St. John’s Catholic church, where Rev. Father Bablitch offered up the mass for Agnes, and spoke in kindly glowing terms of them both. One came away from both services with such a good feeling of Godliness and understanding. 

My farewell to you both dear Agnes and Calvin…Floral offerings were immense, and spiritual bouquets were piled high.

They were in their late 70s when they died. I am glad that at least they had themselves a goodly amount of years together.

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Joanna

 

joanna
Joanna is in bright red.

We don’t know what her surname was at birth, or even her first husband’s name. But we do know that she was known by everyone in town as a chirurgeon (surgeon/doctor), and was recognized as such when her second husband’s probate case was in court.

Joanna arrived in the colonies sometime before 1640. As a wife, or a widow, we do not know. Her husband, if she had one, was not around by 1640. This we know because according to testimony regarding her 2nd husband John’s probate in 1680, she had married forty years earlier to John Smith. (I know, right. Just what I need, another bloody Smith in the family). She brought into this 2nd marriage one daughter, by the name of Elizabeth.

They were most likely married in Boston, where John had been working as a tailor/nailor*, and stayed there for about 13 years. (It is believe that he arrived in New England about 1638 with a brother, Nehemiah. This brother helped him out with a loan when the family wanted to moved to New London, Connecticut about 1653.

Joanna and John had no children, or at least not any that lived. (And John had no children when he died.)

She was a noted doctor and was skillful at healing wounds and bruises and made her own salves, which she used on the patients she tended. Her practice no doubt helped to fill the family pantry or coffers. These skills were passed on to her granddaughter Agnes, who married Thomas Pember. (It does not appear that her daughter Elizabeth was interested in learning the healing arts.)

Agnes (traditionally pronounced Inez, silent ‘g’) was an excellent student:

“Agnes studied medicine under her grandmother, Joanna Smith, became her assistant, and took over the practice when the grandmother became enfeebled. Caulkins’ History of New London, (page 355), mentions Agnes Pember, “was who was for many years famous as a nurse and doctress … Tradition related many vivid anecdotes respecting this energetic and experienced race of female practitioners… and unbounded confidence was placed in her female skills to stroke for the King’s evil (scrofula, thought to be cured the a touch from royalty), to cure cancers, alleviate asthma, and set bones.1

When John died in 1679, Edward Smith, a nephew (a son of John’s eldest brother), protested the will stating that the intent of John in inviting him to move to New England, was that he would treat him as his own son, and upon John’s death, Edward would inherit, as if a son. Probate court records indicate Joanna denied Edward the right to any inheritance, as the will never states any such thing, and all Edward could provide was heresay.

Joanna made a statement that she wished the court to consider regarding the matter of the will:

That I stand as the third person distinct from my deceased husband and Edward Smith, with a lawful conveyance of a part my husband’s estate in my hand which cannot be voided by all those former acts which they pretend to be my husband’s.

“He [Edward] is worse than an infidel that provides not for his own house. I was the proper house my husband had to provide for, flesh of his flesh, and bone of his bone, and he could not with good conscience do less than provide well for me. I brought an estate to him: I helped in getting the estate, the bare rents my husband knew would not maintain me, who he knew he was to leave blind and sickly and aged. If he did in former times say he would do more for Edward, and less for me, it is to be supposed that those purposes were upon his view of things as they stood when I was well able to live by my chyrurgery, now I am blind and cannot see a wound much less dress it or make salves, also my husband expected better behavior from Edward: then after he found, in the providence of God altering my condition so much as for being a good help to others, but I was grown to be a great burthen, gave my husband a just call to alter his former intentions and to give me what might purchase me that respect and supply which the necessity of my condition called for, and which was his indispensable duty to provide for which he having done, if it must not be undone, then woe to poor widows when their husbands are dead, and under what doubts must all consider, tender, conscionable husbands live and die when they shall see an instance of one that did what he could to provide for his widow, but it was frustrate the law would not maintain it. But I hope for better things from the prudence and justice of this court, such as may make the widows heart sing for joy and &c. “Joanna Smith”2

The case was in court a while, but eventually Joanna received her due.

In one of the depositions in the probate case from Richard Smith of New London we learn something interesting regarding her daughter Elizabeth:

 “…Furthermore, John Smith added that his wife had been very earnest with him, to make one of her daughter’s children, his heir. But the said John Smith said he wholly declined it because his wife’s daughter was a Quaker and he could not abide Quakers, and also that her husband [George Way] did not please him.”

So apparently John didn’t care for his stepdaughter’s Quakerish ways (or her husband). A common view in New England at the time where Quakers were vilified, harassed, and even hanged for their belief.

quakersearlynewengland

Joanna was blind at the time of her husband’s death, which is stated several times in the depositions, and in the statement regarding her granddaughter Agnes taking over the doctoring business.

Deposition of Martha Mould: …and if that any words had passed between them in the last sickness wherein one being sick and sometimes testy and angry, and the other through age, weakness and want of sight, not able to do as formerly she could have done

Deposition of Anne Lattemore: that she was there watching in the time of his sickness, and that Joanna acted “with all tenderness and due respect as a wife could do, being in such condition as she was, in being weak, aged and dark sighted.”

The following court case is found in Connecticut court records from 1682:

“Elizabeth Way presented for not living with her husband. The Court orders her to go to her husband or to be imprisoned.” Elizabeth stated that her husband resided in Saybrook and she would remain with her mother at New London as she was the only daughter of John and Johanna Smith.

So, Elizabeth up and left her husband to take care of her aged, blind mother. As her only child, and a devout Quaker, I would imagine that she felt she had no other course but to do her duty, as both. Maybe she was even glad to get away from the old ball and chain for a while. George certainly didn’t seem inclined to be reasonable about the matter, as shown by his bringing her to court to insist that she return home.

The court order was disregarded by Elizabeth.

Joanna died in 1687, aged about 73, but not before passing on her doctoring knowledge to her granddaughter Agnes, who was also well know for her skills. Joanna’s estate was inherited by her daughter Elizabeth, who was now living in Lyme, Connecticut. At no time does the maiden name of Elizabeth appear in the records, so we still do not know who her father is.

I am imagining a tradition of strong, intelligent women in Joanna’s family passing down these doctoring skills to the next generation. All of them, in their time, a vital part of their community. Just reading her statement to the probate court, in trying to get her just due from her husband’s estate, some of that strength comes through.

Joanna is an ancestor in my Dad’s Cross line. Joanna’s lawyer, representing her in the probate case, was William Pitkin. William is an ancestor on the Shaw side of the family, (through Charlotte Hatch). Ensign Clement Minor, an ancestor on mother’s Shepard side, testified against the nephew, Edward in the case. It’s a small world in the 1600s.

*Naylor is written in the records, some believe that to be a typo and he was a tailor, others think it meant nailor. Which sounds like a very weird job to me, what, you just nail all day. Hey, sir, you need anything nailed today. Hmmm. Doesn’t sound likely.

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Sources:

  1. John Pember: The History of the Pember Family in America, Compiled by Mrs. Celeste Pember Hazen; 1939: self published.
  2. A genealogical history of the descendants of the Rev. Nehemiah Smith of New London County, Conn.: with mention of his brother John and nephew Edward. 1638-1888, by Smith, Henry Allen, 1889; Albany, N.Y.: J. Munsell’s Sons.
  3. Connecticut Way Family, compiled by C. Granville Way. Original manuscript in possession of Mary Elizabeth Way, Martinez, California. Loaned to the public library of Fort Wayne and Allen County, May 1978.