Friday, January 31, 2020

I am dear Will Yours affectionately, Th: Jefferson

For fifty-plus years now, I have carried around the memory of a set of blue-covered biographies for children that graced the shelves of my grade-school library.  There must have been thirty of them, and during my third and fourth grade years, I’m pretty sure that I read every one.  I recall my favorites being the wives of the presidents – Martha Washington, Dolly Madison, and Eleanor Roosevelt.  This must have been the beginning of my fascination with the people of history. 

As I have worked on my family history for many years now, it has been fun to come across those biographical subjects again – sometimes right in the midst of my own family.  Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson have been counted among the intimate friends of two different branches of my family – the Flemings and the Frys.  The Fry – Jefferson Map, published in 1755 by my grandfather Joshua Fry and his friend Peter Jefferson (father of the president), is a frequently referenced historical document.  But, the friendship of Thomas Jefferson and my grandfather William Fleming is a bit more obscure. 

I recently had the opportunity to read through more than twenty letters exchanged between my grandfather William Fleming, and the statesman and US president, Thomas Jefferson. These were located at the Founders Online website.  Several of the Fleming – Jefferson letters have been reprinted in the past - in “The Southern Literary Messenger” and in the Virginia Magazine of History. 

The earliest letters, dated in 1763-64, followed shortly after their graduation from William and Mary College.  William Fleming was an older student of the college, being about age twenty-six when he finished his course of study.  These early letters point to the close friendship that existed between them:

Dear Will,
From a crowd of disagreeable companions, among whom I have spent three or four of the most tedious hours of my life, I retire into Gunn's bedchamber to converse in black and white with an absent friend. I
heartily wish you were here that I might converse with a Christian once more before I die: for die I must this night unless I should be relieved by the arrival of some sociable fellow, but I will now endeavor to forget my present sufferings and think of what is more agreeable to both of us.

Jefferson goes on to tout the fine qualities of several lovely ladies he has recently visited.  Both men are still bachelors in 1764.  But, Tom has a proposal for Will Fleming:

dear Will I have thought of the cleverest plan of life that can be imagined, you exchange your land for
Edgehill, or I mine for Fairfields, you marry S — y P — r, I marry R — a B — l [Rebecca Burwell], join and get a pole chair and a pair of keen horses, practise the law in the same courts, and drive about to all the dances in the country together. How do you like it? . . . I am dear Will
Yours affectionately
Th: Jefferson

A similar letter follows a few weeks later, mentioning an upcoming Ball, a silk suit from Tom Randolph, and again - the romances among their friends, and the ladies William Fleming is “courting”. 

No further letters appear in the archives until almost ten years later, in 1773.  By this point in time, the two friends have wed, become fathers, and are establishing homes – Jefferson at Monticello and Fleming at Summerville, outside of Richmond Virginia.  Both men are serving in the Virginia House of Burgess, and will go on to serve in the Continental Congress.  They continue a correspondence throughout their joint lifetimes, but the tenor of their later letters is less intimate, and relates to their shared interest in the direction of their state and nation, and the various tasks before them.  

William Fleming and Thomas Jefferson were both avid readers, and the letters suggest that Fleming regularly moved, loaned, or secured books for Jefferson :

[Williamsburg, June 1776] Purdie has promised to pack up your books, and Colo. Tom to carry them to Tuckahoe. He this day told me you desired him to enquire, of me, something about Vatels law of nations. You did not mention it in your letter to me. I can lend you a copy for a few months when you return to Virginia. I am Dr. Sr. yr. friend & serv., Wm. Fleming

[Philadelphia, August 1779; in the hand of William Fleming] I have procured all the books you wrote for except Erasmus, which is not to be had in this place. They will be sent to Wmsburg. I shall remain here ’til the 15th. of Sept. and hope to be favored with a letter by the gentleman who will be the bearer of this.  I enclose for your amusement Dunlap’s paper of yesterday which contains some important news, and much private Scandal.

Letters in 1781 and 1809 mention William Fleming’s planned visits to Monticello, and we know from other sources, that both men exchanged visits in the home of the other.  Martha Markham, a grand-daughter of William Fleming, supplies a brief story in her 1904 letter:

Summerville was the name of his [William Fleming’s] home twelve miles from Richmond. The day that Cornwallis reached Richmond, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were dining with my grandfather, just as they were seated at the table a courier arrived announcing the arrival [illegible phrase]. My mother said all the gentlemen dropped knives and forks and rushed on to that place.

In the year 1796 William Fleming sent Thomas Jefferson his reflections on a trip he made to Kentucky:

Dr Sir,
I herewith send you a geographical sketch of the several counties in the state of Kentucky, in which, I doubt not, there are many inaccuracies, as I had but little leisure to attend to the subject . .  I was at eleven of their county courthouses, and at Danville, where one of their district courts is held; and what is stated from my own observation, I think, tolerably correct  . . .

A few years later, in 1809, William Fleming sent along another treasure, and Jefferson responded from Monticello:

I send you by mail the rattle of a snake which capt Mann, who presented it to me, said was six feet and a half long; and, from the length of the rattle, I have no doubt but his information was correct . . .

I have recieved safely the extraordinary rattle of the rattle snake, as also the leav foliage of the Alleghaney Martagon - a plant of so much beauty & fragrance will be a valuable addition to our flower gardens.

The friendship of William Fleming and Thomas Jefferson existed over a period of almost sixty-five years.  It came to a close when William Fleming died in February of 1824.  Jefferson died two years later in 1826. 

The final documented letter of William Fleming to Thomas Jefferson was exchanged in July of 1823.  Fleming compliments Jefferson on the establishment of the University of Virginia:

I rejoice to hear of the prosperous advancement of the University; and earnestly hope that the legislature of Virginia will never suffer so noble, & interesting an institution to languish, through prejudice, or parsimony: though, being in the eighty eighth year of my age, I shall probably not live to witness the consummation of the establishment: but it will undoubtedly prove a great blessing to our posterity; and may possibly tend in a measure, to preserve, & perpetuate the union of the States; and it will, at least, reflect honour on the Ancient Dominion; and especially on its founders, who have hitherto been, & will no doubt, continue to be its Zealous patrons . . .
I have the honour to be, with the highest consideration and regard, dear sir, your Old friend, & obedient servt
Wm J. Fleming

For more details on William Fleming, visit his page at the Markham of Chesterfield website.


Further Reading:

Founders Online is an official website of the U.S. government, administered by the National Archives and Records Administration through the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), in partnership with the University of Virginia Press, which is hosting this website.

The Journal of Gilcrease Museum,16.2; Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Thomas Jefferson, Kimberly Roblin. The Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma, owns a manuscript letter from Thomas Jefferson to William Fleming written on July 1, 1776, when Jefferson was attending the Continental Congress in Philadelphia.  Jefferson met Fleming when they roomed together at the College of William and Mary and they maintained a lifelong friendship and correspondence. 

About the photo:
"The presentation of the Declaration of Independence to the Continental Congress.";  Edward Savage, engraver, based on painting by Robert Edge Pine; Library of Congress.

Moving back in time:  Aubin Markham Fry, 1877 > Eliza Brooks Hutchins, 1844 > Aubin Maria Markham, 1817 > Lucy Champe Fleming, 1776 > William Fleming, 1736.
William Fleming is my 5th great-grandfather.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Mary Fleming’s Letter to her Sister

I came across this pleasant little letter from Mary Fleming to her sister when I was searching the Journal Book of Mary Brown Williams Dunbar, at the Mississippi Archives in Jackson Mississippi.  The letter was dated 24 Feb 1792, and was in very good condition.  It was written by Mary Fleming, daughter of Judge William Fleming of Virginia, when she was about fourteen years old.  It is not certain to which of her three sisters it was written.  It was probably passed down to Mary Williams Dunbar by her grandmother, Lucy Fleming Markham.  Pamela Hutchison Garrett, 2018.

Dear Sister,

My Dear Papa handed me your letter which gave me great pleasure as it informed me the Health of you and my other friends.  I flattered my self with the pleasure of seeing sister Lucy when Papa came down, but the weather was too cold, though I hope he will bring her in the Spring.  I was at a very agreeable Ball the other evening, given by the Students, and had a very good partner. 

Give my love to my sisters, and all my friends, and write often to your affectionate sister.

Mary Boling Fleming
24 Feb 1792 

A little perspective:
Mary Bolling Fleming was born about 1779, the youngest child of William Fleming and Betty Champe of “Summerville” in Goochland (later Powhatan) county Virginia.  Betty Champe Fleming died sometime between 1780 and 1790, leaving William Fleming with four little daughters to care for.  The Fleming girls were raised with great devotion by their father who “always had some female relation living with him to help care for them.  He was both father and mother to them.  He had them educated at home.  Their teachers were from England, a Mrs Dudley and a Mrs Livingston” (letter of Martha Markham).

It is unknown where Mary Fleming was writing from.  Her mention of “Students” might suggest that she was at school, but the year 1792 was an early date for the female academies of Virginia. It seems more likely that she was visiting friends.  In 1792 her father was serving as a Justice of the Virginia Supreme Court which met in Richmond each spring.  Richmond being about fifteen miles from their home, perhaps Mary Fleming was visiting or schooling there.

The “sister Lucy” mentioned in the letter was Mary’s next older sister, Lucy Champe Fleming.  She is my own 4xgreat-grandmother.  Lucy Champe Fleming married John Markham in 1794, and Mary Bolling Fleming married Beverly Chew Stanard in 1798.

For more details on Mary Bolling Fleming, visit his page at the Markham of Chesterfield website.

About the Photo: 
“The Gavotte”; a postcard drawing by Florence Hardy, about 1910.

Mary Bolling Fleming is my 4th great-grandaunt.  Lucy Champ Fleming is my 4th great-grandmother.

Back in the Saddle

I do enjoy working on this blog!  But, despite my best intentions, I never find myself able to stick with it.  Once again – more than a year has passed without a posting.  I am hoping, over the next few weeks or months, to add ten or twelve postings that have been waiting for attention.  Recently I have been working to add some of my forty-plus years of research and family history writing to several public databases (ie – FamilySearch and WikiTree).  This has prompted me to return to some of my loose-ends. 

So, here it goes!

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Wisner Cemetery in Elmira New York

In the year 1877, the old Wisner Cemetery rested in the heart of Elmira New York, “deteriorated, and appearing as though it had no care for many years.”  The citizens of the town had determined that it was an eyesore, and were ready to repurpose the land for a community park.  The town council evaluated the situation, and prepared to remove the bodies to the town’s newer Woodlawn Cemetery.

Several descendants of my 8x-great-grandfather Peter Mathews had originally been buried in the Wisner Cemetery, mostly during the 1830’s.  It was in the years 1876 and 1877 that their bodies were removed to other cemeteries in the area, either by family members, or by the city of Elmira.  

Researcher Joyce Tice gives an excellent account of the Wisner Cemetery at her Tri-Counties Genealogy and History website.  It includes a history of the land originally owned by the Wisner family, the establishment of the cemetery in 1802, and details of the removal of bodies in 1877.  It also includes a newspaper article, published in Elmira’s Daily Advertiser of 20th October 1875, with the title, and sub-titles – AMONG THE DEAD; The Story of the Tombstones; The Wisner Park Burying Ground; The Bodies of Those Buried There to Be Removed; Some Account of the Spot and the names of Those Who Therein Do Lie.

The “Tri-Counties” website also includes a list of the two hundred and seventy-seven headstones in the Wisner Cemetery that were inventoried before the removal:

Before all the headstones were removed, Ausburn Towner, a local historian, newspaperman, and writer, copied the inscriptions the best he could, and the data was published in the local newspapers.

The list, as published at the “Tri-Counties” website, also includes bracketed notes, and identifies “markers which were found on August 27, 1973, at the Woodlawn Cemetery, Elmira, New York, by Doris Boyd.”

In reviewing this list, I have identified ten persons who are descendants (or spouses of descendants) in our Mathews family, and I wanted to follow-up here with their burial story:

Matthew Carpenter, Major General; 26 Sep 1759 – 6 Oct 1839; 79y 12m 10d; Revolutionary War Soldier. Died in the 81st year of his age.
Note: Matthew Carpenter, husband of Catherine Mathews.
[Towner 1875; to Woodlawn 1876; Boyd 1977; FindAGrave 2012 – Woodlawn, Elmira]

Catherine Carpenter; 1764/65 – 28 Oct 1830; 65y; Wife of Major General M Carpenter.
Note – Catherine Mathews, daughter of James Mathews and Hannah Strong.
[Towner 1875; to Woodlawn 1876; Boyd 1977; FindAGrave 2012 – Woodlawn, Elmira]

Robert Lawrence, Esq
Note – Robert Lawrence, husband of Catherine “Locky” Carpenter. This is a shale tombstone which contains no data. Trinity Episcopal Church records show a Lawrence as being buried 19 May 1834.
[Towner 1875; to Woodlawn by City of Elmira 1876; Boyd 1977; FindAGrave 2017 – Woodlawn, Elmira]

Locky Lawrence; 20 Nov 1785 – 13 Dec 1817; 32y 23d; In Memory Of, Wife of Robert Lawrence.
Note – Catherine “Locky” Carpenter.  Carpenter Family Bible records states that her name was “Catherine”, and she was the daughter of Matthew and Catherine Mathews Carpenter.
[Towner 1875; to Woodlawn by City of Elmira 1876; Boyd 1977; FindAGrave 2012 – Woodlawn, Elmira]

Fletcher Mathews; 19 July 1775 – 16 Feb 1814; 38y 6m 28d; In Memory Of.
Note – Fletcher Mathews, son of James Mathews and Hannah Strong.
[Towner 1875; FindAGrave 2012  - Maple Grove, Horseheads]

Peter Mathews; 11 May 1789 – 24 Oct 1826; 37y 5m 13d.
Note – Peter Mathews, son of Selah Mathews and Mary Strong.
[Towner 1875]

Selah Mathews; 1761/62 – 9 Nov 1833; 71y
Note – Selah Mathews, son of James Mathews and Hannah Strong. Appears in a list of burials for Maple Grove Cemetery in Horseheads, Chemung county, New York.
[Towner 1875]

Thomas Mathews; 5 Sep 1786 – 16 Jun 1836; 49y 9m 11d.
Note –Thomas Mathews’ parentage is uncertain, but he may be the man who married Rebecca Mathews, daughter of Vincent Mathews and Juliana Strong.  Trinity Episcopal Church records state he was buried 18 June 1836 by Rev Richard Smith. 
[Towner 1875]

Robert Mathews; Sep 1809 – 28 Aug 1835; 25y 11m.
Note – Robert Mathews, son of Selah Mathews and Mary Strong.
[Towner 1875]

Amira Thompson; Jul 1801 – 20 Oct 1839; 38y 2m; Wife of R H Thompson.
Note – Amira Carpenter, daughter of Matthew Carpenter and Catherine Mathews.
[Towner 1875]

For more details on the people listed here, visit their pages at the Markham of Chesterfield website.

Further Reading:
Tri-Counties Genealogy & History by Joyce M. Tice

About the Photo: 
Trinity Church, Elmira New York; 2008 by LvKlock, creative commons.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

They are off! - A Horseracing Family Tradition

In 1878, Little Joe Adams Jr wrote an article titled Early Racing in Orange County [NY], and it was published in Wallace's Monthly: An Illustrated Magazine Devoted to Domesticated Animal Nature (Volume 4).  Below I draw some extracts related to the Mathews, Brooks and Waters families that are included in Adam’s entertaining and informative article.  For those who are interested in the topic, I highly recommend a complete reading.  Link at the closing of this blog post.

The article begins - “Horse-racing has ever been the pastime of the people of Goshen, and the major part of Orange county [New York] . . . “  Adams goes on to describe the arrival of European pioneers and their horses in New York’s Orange county.   

“Very naturally the owners of these spirited animals soon began to pride themselves on the merits of their respective blooded and highmettled pets, and friendly contests of speed and bottom followed as quickly and certainly as daylight follows the hours of gloom.”

“Although New Windsor, Newburgh, Haverstraw and Orangetown were settled long before Goshen, neither had the "lay of land" suitable for racing, excepting "Matthews' Field"*—near New Windsor, now the home of Mr. Alden Goldsmith; and as Goshen had the best horses, the first matches in this county were made in this village . . . So numerous did these contests become, that it was deemed expedient, in a few years, to construct a course outside of the public highway . . . - It was located near the village, was constructed on what was afterward, and unto this day, known as Fiddler's Green . . . This was the first race-course in Orange county. Others soon followed, and at the beginning of 1800 this county boasted of at least four noted places of meeting—Summerville, Smith's Village, Golden Hill and the Old Waters Course*, which shall form the subject of this sketch.” 

*A note on Mathewsfield and the Old Waters Course – Adams remarks on the suitability of Mathewsfield for the earliest horse racing in the county. Mathewsfield was the original home of Vincent Mathews, and was later occupied by his son Fletcher Mathews, followed by Fletcher’s son-in-law Jonathan Brooks – all who were keen horsemen.  Jonathan Brooks was married to Fletcher Mathews’ daughter Catherine Mathews.  The Old Waters Course was established by Thomas Waters, another Mathews’ son-in-law.  Thomas Waters was married to Fletcher Mathews’ daughter Bridget Mathews.

Adams carries on his story with several descriptions of Thomas Waters and his Old Waters Course:

“ . . . as the Waters' Course was superior in every respect, while the wealth and standing of its owner gave it a prestige none other enjoyed, his . .  course kept in a style then unknown in any of the Northern States,—it is more than simple justice to accord to the departed the honor of introducing and patronizing and propagating the best blooded stock in the county . . “

“As a part of the unpublished stallion history of Orange county, I will give you the names and pedigrees of the famous horses* and racers who have left such worthy progeny among us, and who figured conspicuously in the races of the above track encouraged by the patronage and influence of Sheriff Thomas Waters, who was, I believe, the first importer of horses in Orange county, and who loved a horse as he loved himself.”

*”Imported Clothier.—A bright bay, sixteen bands high, owned by Jonathan Brooks, of Matthews' Field (now Washingtonville). He was got by Old Clothier, who was by Matchem . . .
Badger.—A thoroughbred grey stallion, bred in Maryland, got by imp. Badger, out of the full-blooded mare, Sarah, who was got by Partner. He also was owned by Jonathan Brooks.”

“The Waters' Course was located about one and-a-half miles southwest of Goshen, on the farm of Sheriff Thomas Waters, which contained about six hundred acres. The old course was built in a very substantial manner, for those days, and at considerable expense. Like the Golden Hill Course, it followed the land—the first one-third of a mile on rolling hillocks, from ten to twenty feet high; then down across a stout stone bridge, spanning a brooklet which ran through the meadow, and then rose again to a level with the hillocks, turning then to the left, descended gradually down past the old Ash Spring , while the track across the meadow was level until it struck the home-stretch, then gradually ascended for a quarter of a mile to the stand.  The judges' stand was built by, and fastened to, the large oak tree standing on the edge of the back-track, and the start was made from the tree to the right, near the distance-pole . . . “

“Most of the old track is now obliterated; but notwithstanding the inroads of the plow of the farmer and the frosts of past winters, enough yet remains to prove to the incredulous that we of Goshen had a race-course long before these all-wise writers were born. In two or three places the old track can be distinctly traced: the turn above the stand, at the woods; the excavations on either side of the brook, and the embankment near the ash spring.”

“The races on the Waters' Course (which began in 1790) only took place in the fall of the year; differing, in this respect, from the Golden Hill Course, where meetings were regularly held every spring and fall: and in consequence of which the interest was gradually withdrawn from the former and transferred to the latter, until at length (about 1832) the Waters' Course was abandoned, fenced off, as we find it to-day, and surrendered to the husbandman.”

“The old Waters' homestead, and a remnant of the once spacious stables, yet remain, but weather-beaten and grey—mere wrecks of their former glory. The property has all passed into other hands, and today not a rood of the land is in possession of the descendants of the founder of the course. The main part of the old track is now included in the farm of Rev JR Staatz; while the old house and surroundings are the property of the Messrs Steward.”

“Mr. Thomas Waters dying, in 1834, at the age of seventy-four years, his property all passed into other hands, and the once famous stamping-ground of Orange county sportsmen is to-day almost forgotten by even those who once participated in its enchanting sports.”

For more details on Thomas Waters, Vincent Mathews, and Jonathan Brooks visit their individual pages at the Markham of Chesterfield website.

Further Reading: 

Early Racing in Orange County, by Little Joe Adams Jr; published in Wallace's Monthly: An Illustrated Magazine Devoted to Domesticated Animal Nature, Volume 4; B. Singerly, 1878; available online through googlebooks.

The Goshen Gallopers; Phil Pines; published in the Harlem Valley Times (Amenia, New York); 1985; and available at the Old Fulton Postcards Website.

Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame, Goshen New York

Photo Credit: 
“Trotting Cracks at Home, a Model Stable”; Thomas Worth sketch for Currier and Ives, 1868; Library of Congress Collection; no restrictions.
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