My great-grandmother (my maternal grandfather’s mother) has been somewhat of an enigma ever since I began researching my family’s history. The first record that I found of her was the 1870 census: she was 6 years old living in the home of Andrew and Flora Gerrish in Gouldsboro, Maine. Although this census doesn’t list relationships, it looked like a small nuclear family: father, mother, daughter. But, what’s this? She was born in Newfoundland? Well, Andrew Gerrish was a Master Mariner who sailed the waters of the Atlantic Coast. Perhaps his wife traveled with him and happened to give birth in Newfoundland? As we will see later, nope.
At the age of 18 Maria married her next door neighbor, Walter Tracy, who was 3 years her senior. She had known him since she was 6 years old. But tragedy struck less than a year and a half later when Walter died of tuberculosis. She was a 20 year old widow. Her second marriage was to my great-grandfather, Colon Emery Pendleton on 16 May 1886. Colon came from a long line of sea captains, but his father, Joshua Archabus Pendleton, a sea captain on a Danish steamliner, had died at the age of 24, in Cuba, of yellow fever. His mother died of consumption 4 years later and Colon was raised by his grandparents. Colon became a painter and paper hanger, perhaps thinking that this was a safer occupation.
Maria gave birth to three boys: Arno in 1887, Ralph in 1890 and my grandfather, Clyde in 1891 – the only children who lived to adulthood. Her subsequent pregnancies and births became a series of tragedies. Alice Marion only lived for 7 months, an infant son (unnamed) lived for 2 days, daughter Flora lived for 2 days and finally there was another daughter who was stillborn. What caused so much infant mortality in this family? I may have found the answer. Colon died in 1915 at the age of 57 of lead poisoning, a victim of his profession. He probably suffered the effects of lead poisoning for many years before he succumbed. Lead poisoning can contribute to birth defects, creating abnormal sperm.
Colon had moved the surviving family to Lynn, Massachusetts by 1900. Colon and Maria had returned to Maine sometime before he died in 1915, as he died there and is buried in the Greenwood Cemetery in Winter Harbor alongside little Alice. You can see Alice’s headstone in the background in the photograph below.
By the time she was 52 years old, Maria had buried four children and two husbands. She returned to the home of her parents by 1920, perhaps staying to take care of them in their old age. Andrew was 82 and 77 year old Flora had suffered a stroke about 1918. By 1940 she had returned to Massachusetts where all three of her sons were living and raising families, showing up twice in the census living with her son Ralph in Worcester and also with her son Clyde (my grandfather) in Melrose. I don’t remember my mother ever speaking about her grandmother, Maria, even though Maria shared their home when my mother was 16 years old. Surely she would have remembered her.
Finally, who were Maria’s real parents? Maria is listed as the daughter of Andrew and Flora Gerrish in the 1880 and 1920 censuses and she lived with them in the 1870 census at the age of 6. However, on all of her children’s birth records her maiden name is listed as Mitchell, not Gerrish. Her place of birth is consistently listed as Bay of Islands, Newfoundland, Canada. The 1900 census lists her birth as August 1863. I found no Maria Mitchell born in Bay of Islands in August of 1863. However! I found Maria Mitchell, daughter of James Mitchell and MaryAnn Laing born in Petty Harbor, 26 August 1863.
Shortly after her birth the family moved to Bay of Islands. Perhaps Maria (and her adoptive parents) didn’t know that she wasn’t born in Bay of Islands. Her birth parents, James and MaryAnn Mitchell continued to live in and raise a family in Bay of Islands, but Maria was adopted by Andrew Gerrish and his wife Flora, who had no other children. How did this adoption come about? I found no death record for her – she died some time after the 1940 census. Greenwood Cemetery tells me that she has a burial plot next to her husband, but it is not clear whether she was actually buried there. No headstone was erected there (although her three sons were each quite prosperous by that time). Maria continues to be an enigma.