Archive | July 2016

A Slave Owner in the Family

My 8x great grandfather owned slaves. It is not something I am happy about, but it is a fact that I cannot change.

Some facts about him:

He arrived along the New England coast in the mid 1670’s, originally from England, coming by way of Newfoundland. As part of the fishing industry he ended up in Kittery (Maine) and there amassed a small fortune along with his son, Sir William Pepperrell, building a fishing and merchant fleet of 17 or 18 ships. His ships sailed all over the world carrying timber, fish, salt, sugar and rum.

Willam Pepperrell from Messrs. William Pepperrell cropped

He was Colonel William Pepperrell. He served as a Colonel in the militia during the Indian Wars. His home served as a Garrison House during those wars. It still stands today at the corner of Pepperrell Road and Bellamy Lane in Kittery. (The original house is on the right, the addition was added later.)

William Pepperrell House

When I found his will I was shocked and saddened to find three slaves. (He referred to them as “servants.”)

  • “I also give to my said Daughter Dorathy Watkins her Heirs & Assigns my Negro Man servant Named George . . .And I do hereby order that if the said negro Servant do faithfully & truly Serve untill he Shall come to the age of Forty years that then he shall have his Discharge Liberty & Freedom given him.”
  • “I give unto my Molatto man servant named Toby his Discharge Liberty & Freedom at one Years end next after my Decease on the Condition that he behave himselfe a true & Faithful Servant until that Time.”
  • “I give unto my Negro man servant Named Scipio his Discharge Liberty & Freedom when he shall be Forty years old Provided & on condition that he truly & faithfully serve until that Time.”

I had to wonder, given his profession, if William had participated in the slave trade. Much of the correspondence from the Pepperrell business still exists, including receipts and bills of lading. From the book Messrs. William Pepperrell : Merchants at Piscataqua by Byron Fairchild, I found the following information regarding their business in Barbados:

“In 1719, . . .[Benjamin] Bullard shipped the Pepperrells a consignment of rum and five Negro slaves. It may be that on other occasions also they engaged in the slave traffic, on a similar scale, for one item in the St. Domingue accounts of the younger William and his brother-in-law, Benjamin Clarke, seems to cover the sale of a Negro slave. But slave dealing was an insignificant feature of their business. They doubtless had no great scruples against the trade, for they themselves were slaveowners; that they refrained because of the perishable nature of the cargo is more likely, since four of the five slaves shipped by Bullard died at sea and the other did not long survive the voyage.”

“Perishable nature of the cargo” is the statement that stays with me from this excerpt – humans as cargo, but I’m glad it was an “insignificant feature of their business.”

To George, Toby and Scipio – I hope you were treated well.

William is buried in a tomb across Pepperrell Road not far from his home.

William Pepperrell Tomb



A Love Story Interrupted by War

While my mother was attending the New England School of Art, during World War II, she worked for a dressmaking firm called Miller and Levine on Newbury Street in Boston. Bernard Levine had emigrated from Stalbonov, Russia in 1924 and had founded the firm in 1940. They made dresses for stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor. My mother drew their newspaper ads and dressed their windows. She had seen her fiance go off to fight the Germans in September of 1944. They had met in high school when she asked him to a Sadie Hawkins Dance. In December of that same year her mother-in-law-to-be received a telegram: Your son is missing in action and presumed dead.

Newspaper Article Wm Millar MIA

And so she had lost her fiance. Or so she thought. Fast forward to June of 1945, shortly after her graduation from art school. The story is that one day my mother was dressing a store window when she saw a soldier walking toward her across the Boston Public Garden. She must have thought she was seeing a ghost, when she realized it was her fiance returning from war. He had been shot and captured and had spent more than 5 months in a German POW camp. Communication at that time was not what it is today! Mr. Levine kindly gave my mother the rest of the day off to be with her soldier.

And THAT is the story that I remember being told, of how my parents were reunited after he had been presumed dead.

Family Treasures – You Never Know What You’re Going to Find!

After my recent success with a family Bible (see my Blog post about that here: I thought I’d revisit some of the family heirlooms that have somehow ended up with me.

I found a treasure. Can you tell what it is?

File Jul 04, 6 01 02 PM

Here’s a hint:

Army Issued New Testament

William K. Millar was my Dad.

One more hint:

Bible - Roosevelt

Now you know what it is. The best part was the page that I found folded and tucked inside, which appears to have been ripped out of a magazine, (maybe Reader’s Digest?) probably given to him by his Mother (I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for her – sending her only son off to war):

Mother's Prayer found in New Testament

As my Dad would have said, “‘Nuff said.”

A Family Bible Mystery – Solved!

I have had in my possession for more than 20 years, a family bible with the name Hutchins inside the front cover. My 3x great grandfather Theodore Hutchings was born about 1789 according to census records, but the Theodore listed in the bible was born in 1890 – about one hundred years later. I had put the bible away, thinking it was worth preserving but that I wasn’t sure how I connected to the family.

Bible 2

Recently, I have been working again on my 3x great grandfather Theodore Hutchings – I have been stuck on who his parents were – and recently found a fourth cousin on Ancestry who had information about his parents. When I asked about her source of the information, she told me that many years ago she had sat down with an elderly distant relative in Bucksport, Maine, who was considered an expert on the family. She was later able to verify the information she received that Theodore’s parents were Jeremiah Hutchings and Sarah Littlefield. I remembered the bible, carefully wrapped in tissue, tucked away in a drawer.  I dug out the bible and took another look. The leather-bound bible is in very sad condition – the pages are brittle and there is a strong odor of mildew. It has had some water damage.

The first pages of the bible are missing, so no publication date was obvious at first glance. Inside the front cover is inscribed “Sarah Hutchins of Old York.”  Hmmm…I know my Theodore was born in Old York.

Bible Cover scan Sarah

I gingerly flipped through the pages and came to the blank page where someone (probably Sarah?) had written the names and dates of birth of eight children. It was on the back side of the first page of the New Testament where I found a publication date for the bible of 1805! Ok, we have a date – the bible is 211 years old! I looked at the list of children again – here’s a rough transcription of how it was written:

“Stephen Hutchings was born in 29 May 1888, Theodore Hutchings was born in November 7 = 1890, Deborah Hutchings was born in February — 1892, –Hutchings was born in January 8 = 1893 [?], Edward Hutchings was born in January 27 = 1897, Prissilen was born in January 23 = 1801, Ebenezer was born in December 20 = 1803, Abgiel was born in January 13 1805.”

Scan of family - children of Jeremiah Hutchings and Sarah Littlefield

The bible was published in 1805. This page was probably written in 1805 or a little later. I researched these siblings and discovered that the first five children, listed as having been born in the late 1800’s were actually born in the late 1700’s. Their birth order makes it clear that whoever wrote this page (Sarah????), put 18__ instead of 17__ for the first five children. Of course they would be listed chronologically! And this is MY Theodore – born November 7, 1790! And the bible belonged to my 4x great grandmother, Sarah Littlefield Hutchings! Oh, Sarah, you had me fooled for a very long time.