TALES OF MY ANCESTORS
By Langley W. Isom
In 1958 I compiled a genealogy of my known ancestors and had it duplicated for the benefit of the family. It is entitled Genealogy of the Families of Isom, Chittenden, Aldrich, Nolen and Langley. Deliberately I confined my efforts to listing vital statistics such as Dates of birth, marriages, children and deaths. Reading it now it gives the impression that these people were made of clay without spark of life in any one of them.
I don’t want to leave it there. Some of these people played parts, large or small, in the building of our country. Some were funny. So I am going to try to make a permanent record of things about them I have read, been told about or just remember. I hope this may help them come alive.
This is a good subject for me. My vision is about 20/600 which means I can’t read books, typescript or even my own notes, so I am going to use material already in my head. Some of what I write can be verified, some I remember and some is just tradition and hearsay. There are some parts which I myself think ain’t necessarily so, but I shall make no distinction between these sources.
The name is said to be that of a tribe of Gaul which King John encountered during his forays there. Impressed by their fighting ability he took some of them back to England and settled them along the Welsh border hoping they might help to keep the barbarians out of England.
The family apparently developed may branches, some of which emigrated to America. Some Isoms must have been slave holders in the West Indies and the southern states because there are black Isoms in both places as well as in Harlem.
I once corresponded with an Isom who was a lawyer in Miami. We could find no common ancestry.
A Rex Isom once appeared in Belmont. He and his wife were in domestic service there while he worked for his PhD at Harvard.
I had a letter from an Isom in Arkansas. He demanded money and evidently had lost some of his marbles.
An Isom once starred on the Princeton football team. Many asked whether he was a relative. He was not.
It seems that may of these Isoms must be descendants of those who emigrated before 1870. Our families may have been connected in England, but the only Isoms I know which I can count as relatives are the descendants of Thomas listed, I believe complete in the 1958 genealogy.
Thomas Isom was an architect and builder of Norwood, now part of London in the early 19th century. He married Elizabeth Elphick. I have a beautiful little silver pitcher which belonged to Elizabeth and which came down through the girls of the family to my sister, Evelyn, who gave it to me.
Before emigrating to America about 1830 Thomas and Elizabeth had four sons: Thomas, William G., Edward and John. There is no record of why they came to America, but this they did and settled in Skaneateles, New York. Here Tomas continued with his building although with some difficulty because his experience had been with stone and brick and now he had to use wood almost entirely.
In Skaneateles they had five more children: Elizabeth, Sarah, Henry and two more boys, names unknown. Of these nine children there are records of only a few. I know nothing about Thomas. William G. was my grandfather and shall tell of him later.
Edward and John both had their careers in Cleveland. Edward helped endow the Episcopal cathedral there, and I heard as late as 1982 there are records of him there. John became a well known surgeon. The two girls, Elizabeth and Sarah, lived into the twentieth century and had many descendants. Some of them were well know to my family. I knew only Mary Swartout who once came to Garden City and whom I saw again at my brother Edward’s 70th birthday party in 1955. She gave me a lot of information for the 1958 genealogy. Henry and the two youngest boys were all killed in the Civil War, apparently when very young.
The second oldest in this family was my grandfather, William G. Isom. We first hear of him in Champaign, Illinois about 1858. There is no record of why he was there. I once wrote to the city clerk in Champaign asking if they had any records of my grandfather or father. He replied that the court house and all the records in it were destroyed by fire in the 1880’s.
In Champaign William met and married Ellen Collette, said to be the daughter of his landlady. More of her later. They had two children: my father, William H. in 1859 and Edward in 1861.
Everybody knows what happened next. I have my grandfather’s commission in the 125th Illinois Volunteers dated 1862. This commission is for the rank of first lieutenant. I do not know whether it was issued as he entered the service or whether he held some lower rank beforehand. I do know that my maternal grandmother, Muzzie Chittenden, told how once when she was taking care of the children, she found them playing horse with a red scarf which she recognized as being part of a major’s dress uniform during the war period. The children told her it had belonged to their grandfather. She took it away from them.
I have two small pictures of my grandfather in uniform. In one he is wearing a type of mufti that is seldom shown in extant photographs. In the other he is in his dress blue uniform with fore and aft shoulder straps, but I can’t quite make out the rank they designate.
My father told how he had gone with his mother up on a mountain to watch a battle in the valley below, presumably one in which his father was engaged. This might have been just about at the beginning of father’s memory.
Some time in 1865 Major Isom checked his bag at the railroad station in St. Louis and was never seen or heard of again. The War Department had no record of anything having happened to him. He just plain disappeared.
Some of the family have suggested that he went over the hill to get away from his wife. As I shall presently explain he had ample reason for such action. But I can not believe that a man who had character anything like that of my father would have deserted his two little boys.
Where Ellen and her children spent the next few years is not known but it is known that about 1869 she abandoned her children Will and Eddie on the streets of Chicago. Somehow the little boys found their way back to their grandfather’s home and farm in Skaneateles. It was in a country school there, and only there, that father received any formal education. At another time in this period he worked for a printer and published a paper called The Pearl.
Here father acquired a love for the printer’s craft that lasted all his life, and brought about a rapport between us. From reading boys’ books and magazines I had developed a longing for a printing press.
Father received the idea with enthusiasm, and bought me a fine hand press with a 6 x 9 in. chase and all the type and equipment to go with it. He taught me how to set type and to perform the many other operations required. I printed for the family and sometimes sold at school Christmas cards, letterheads and flyers. Then, for a while, I published a very small paper called The Rising Sun (the name was father’s) which I sold at school for 3 cents a copy. Father contributed much, not only in procedure but also in editorial content.
I remember this period with happiness. In none of my other activities were father and I so close.
I know nothing of my father’s little brother, Eddie, until he was a young man and became a telegrapher. While serving at a remote railroad station in Arkansas he was killed by a shot from a passing train. No one ever knew why, although father went to considerable expense trying to find out. So far as anyone knew Eddie didn’t have an enemy in the world. Father adored his brother and was badly broken up by the tragedy.
To return to the matter of father’s mother, Ellen. It would seem that any woman who would desert her children must have been deranged, but such matters were only slightly understood in the late nineteenth century.
Ellen was of French descent, the daughter of a merchant who had moved from France to New York where Ellen was born. Later they moved to New Orleans. From there Ellen somehow found her way up the river to Illinois.
She was a fanatical Catholic, and that seems to have dominated her life. In later years she lived in Chicago, and I remember Father saying he had been to see her. He supported her generously. As soon as she had any money the priests would get it for their parochial activities.
She would dress in rags and stand in front of the Rookery Building where father had his office and would say to any one who would listen, “I am William Isom’s mother; see how he treats me.”
I never saw my paternal grandmother and believe that neither my mother nor any of the other children did either.
Evelyn tells of an episode about 1905 which borders on farce. Father’s mother had threatened to kidnap some of the children because they were not being raised as Catholics. Father hired a private detective and told the family, “This is Cousin Roger who has come to live with us for a while.” The children were not as naive as they were supposed to be and knew at once that something funny was going on. Cousin Roger was assigned to watch the two smallest children, Evelyn about twelve and Elbert about nine. Every afternoon he’d walk them along the beach to Evanston. There, he entered a small building and told the children to wait for him outside. He came out after about half an hour, looking rather red in the face, and they walked back along the beach to Kenilworth.
Eventually Evelyn got across to father what was going on and Cousin Roger was sent packing.
Father was baptized in the Catholic church but did not follow it. When he worked in New York he would faithfully attend the passion service at St. Patrick’s on every Good Friday. Until he was so old he could hardly stand he knelt and prayed by his bed each night.
Both in Kenilworth and Garden City father generously supported the Episcopal church in which all the children had been baptized. He would go to church with us on special occasions, but for the most part seemed to have established his own relationship with God which, we were all sure, was eminently satisfactory to both parties.
Father first married Antoinette Whitten and they had Edward and Nettie. Antoinette died at Nettie’s birth.
A little later he married Lena (Brownie) Chittenden whose marriage to James Thompson had recently resulted in divorce. Father adopted the two Thompson children, Frances and Marion.
They lived mostly in St. Paul, but in 1898 built the fine house in Kenilworth, a new village recently carved from the woods on the Lake Michigan shore 17 miles north of Chicago, to which father’s business had then moved. Evelyn was born in St. Paul.
Brownie died in the Yukon in 1900 while accompanying father on a business trip there.
Evelyn, aged 7, was also along on this trip. For some reason father could not return home at once. Evelyn was dispatched with a reliable woman the family knew to Seattle. There she was met by father’s old time friend and business associate, Snowden, who took her on to Kenilworth.
This seems to me to be such a tragedy that I can’t even think of it without emotion. I talked with Evelyn about it in 1982 when she was 89 and wondered that, even then she could discuss it rationally. It was a long, long trip for a little girl of seven to take with a comparative stranger just after she had lost her mother.
Muzzie Chittenden who had been recently widowed moved from Adrian to Kenilworth to help with the five motherless children. Apparently for the same reason my mother, Hallie Chittenden Thomas, came to Kenilworth a year or two later after she had divorced Albert Thomas in Detroit. Mother brought with her her son Elbert, then about five years old. Then, a year or two later, Hallie Thomas married William Isom, and I came along in 1906 to make a family of seven. Father adopted Frances, Marion and Elbert and rewarded all his children, blood or adopted, exactly alike.
No child was ever given more love than I was, yet I am sure that the general opinion of the family on my arrival was best expressed by Timmy, a big gray Maltese tom that had been Elbert’s kitten when both were young. It was obvious that Timmy considered me an additional complication to an already over-complicated situation. He showed this by spitting and scooting whenever I came near him.
Frances died of typhoid in 1908. Edward was away at college or working almost from the first. Marion married in 1910, Nettie in 1915 and Evelyn in 1917. Elbert was working and living elsewhere much of the time. So it was only my father, my mother and myself who lived in the Kenilworth house until 1920 when we moved to New York following father’s business.
As of 1984 Evelyn and Langley are still alive. All the other children except Frances, lived into their seventies and had children and grandchildren. None was ever divorced and all had normal and sometimes interesting lives. But these are my siblings, not my ancestors, and, therefore are not a part of this account.
But there is much more to tell about father. In 1964 I wrote a paper about father’s fantastic business career for the benefit of one Professor Greasely of the University of Wyoming who was writing a history of the oil business. I sent copies to various members of the family. Therefore, I shall not tell here about father’s business achievements but rather of other things I remember about him which I regard as more important.
Father’s kindness to and love of animals was almost a religion. As a young man he had gone hunting. He shot a doe and her fawn ran to him for protection. He never hunted again.
In contrast with his business friends and associates, father never did much with the stock market. When he died his estate contained his big block of Sinclair stock but only a few small holdings in other companies. These had been acquired long ago, apparently to help friends in various enterprises.
The exception was when mother told him he ought to have a new suit of clothes. Then he would say that Wall Street would have to pay for it, and he would invest money there in the amount he thought necessary to get the clothes out of capital gains. Apparently he never failed to realize these modest ambitions.
Father’s principal interest outside his business was in farming, particularly poultry farming. For recreation he read the Rural New Yorker and various farm magazines.
At our farm in Michigan starting in 1916 he partially realized his ambition for having an ideal farm. Everything on the place was done over or bought new after father had given minute scrutiny to every item.
However, father’s first love was his business. He would spend little time at the farm or anywhere else, except in his office.
Father’s will provided that any debts to him by his children should be cancelled, and all children, blood and adopted shared and shared alike. This was his final tribute to the ideals of fairness for which he had always stood.
The name is Welsh and means, “Lower house on the hill.”
Robert Chittenden was living near Cranbrook in Kent in the latter part of the sixteenth century. Here, in 1594 he had a son named William.
William grew up to serve in the Netherlands during the Thirty Years War, to marry a girl named Joanna and to have a son named Thomas in 1715.
Why he decided to leave England is not really known. One version is that he returned to England broke -- in debt to his brother officers for gambling losses and to his tailor for uniforms. He wanted out of England but quick and didn’t care too much where he went. At any rate, in 1639 he joined a group of emigrants heading for the new world. He sailed on a ship of 30 tons bound for New Haven. Whether his son and wife were with him or came later is not known.
On the ship the parties drew up a covenant for the government of what they called their plantation. On arrival in New Haven they decided to move on, possibly because the inhabitants there weren’t any too friendly. At any rate they established themselves in what is now the beautiful village of Guilford, some miles east of New Haven on Long Island Sound. There the Chittendens prospered and multiplied as is evidenced to this day by the large number of Chittenden names on the stores and offices in Guilford.
Thomas begat William in 1666
William begat Ebeneezer in 1699
Ebeneezer begat Thomas in 1730
Thomas had a distinguished career. He moved from Guilford to Williston, Vermont in 1774 and took up extensive holdings there. He brought with him his wife, Elizabeth, and his son, Truman who had been born in 1758
Thomas became Ethan Allen’s adjutant in the Green Mountain Boys and was instrumental in the capture of Fort Ticonderoga from the British with a small force. Here’s how the story goes:
Ethan and Tom at the head of a small force crept toward the blockhouse. “There’s an awful lot of noise in there, sounds like a big force”, said Ethan, “Maybe we better wait for reinforcements.”
“Naw,” replied Tom, “they’re just having a Party. Surrender!” He banged the butt of his rifle on the block house door.
“In whose name do you make this preposterous demand?” came a voice from inside.
“In the name of George Washington and the Continental Congress,” Tom answered.
The, door was opened. “Come on in boys, come in. Join the party.” called a redcoat from inside.
And quite a party it was too. The British had tapped a keg of rum, and many were feeling no pain. They had waited and waited for supplies and reinforcements that never came and were almost out of food and ammunition. So they had decided to have one final blast with what they had left and then move on as best they could to the nearest British post.
After the war Thomas became the leader of the movement for an independent Vermont. Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New York all had made settlements resulting in claims within the territory, and things got a little rough when the Vermonters and the New Yorkers started swapping pot shots across Lake Champlain.
At one time Tom Chittenden proclaimed, “We will join the Dominion of Canada before we will bow to the unjust claims of the state of New York.” First the Massachusetts and New Hampshire claims were settled and then finally, New York gave in and Vermont was admitted to the Union in 1791. Thomas Chittenden became its first governor for eight years, and things settled down.
The Marquis de Lafayette visited Vermont during his triumphal tour of the United States in 1784, and quite properly stopped by to pay his respects to the governor. As he rode up to the house he saw a man working in the front yard.
“Here my good man, hold my horse,” said Lafayette. The man complied.
The governor’s wife came to the door. “Is his excellency the governor in?” asked the Frenchman.
“Why that’s the governor out there holding your horse,” replied Mrs. Chittenden.
The governor’s son, Truman, became a judge and quite a wheel in the new community. Truman had a son named Henry in 1798, and Henry had four children, Hiram, Cornelia, Henry and Mark, born in 1841. I know nothing of Hiram. My mother dearly loved her Aunt Cornelia who moved to a farm within driving distance of Adrian. Henry had a son, Harry in 1874, and he comes into this narative later. Mark had the good fortune to become my grandfather. He was called Mark by almost everybody, but his official name was Martin E. He was born in Vermont in 1841 but moved to Adrian, Michigan as a very young man. Here he married Frances Aldrich who was my beloved grandmother and to whom I have referred to in this writing as Muzzie Chittenden. I shall tell more about her, when I come to the Aldrich family.
During their courtship, about 1861, Mark brought Frances (whom he called Frank) the sheet music of a new song called Listen to the Mockingbird which contains the line “I’m dreaming of Hallie”. My grandmother played it on the piano and both were so pleased with it that they decided then and there that one of their children should be called Hallie. Their first child, born 1865, was called Lena Halleck, a Chittenden family name but my mother born in 1869, was indeed called Hallie.
Mark and Frances were married in 1862 or 1863 in the middle of the war. They had no use at all for it and believed that the South had the better cause. My grandfather was, of course, of military age. He twice hired a man to serve in his place. This cost him $200 each time. According to my grandmother this was a perfectly normal procedure and was not considered reprehensible either legally or morally.
To her dying day my grandmother would not say a good word about Abraham Lincoln.
Of the boys in my grandmother’s high school class only one came home alive. This was Major Ed Graves, veteran of Gettysburg. When I was a little boy my father had given Major Graves a clerical position in his office and occasionally he came to Kenilworth for Sunday dinner. He incessantly told war stories to the point where dinner was slowed to a walk and sometimes the family did not conceal its boredom. It is hardly possible to believe now that he bored us, and how I wish I had hung on and remembered every word the old gentleman said.
Adrian was both on the Wabash and the original line of the Lake Shore Railroad. In the Nineteenth Century it was rather an important distribution center. There were many jobbers there who sold merchandise of many kinds to the stores in the surrounding towns. My grandfather was one of these. I still have one of, his letterheads, “M. E. Chittenden Co., Oils and Tobaccos.” He apparently did quite well. The family lived in a very nice house complete with a cupola. I have seen it. They had a stable with both riding and carriage horses.
They also had a fine jet black man named Wallace whom they adored and who adored them. I had the privilege of meeting Wallace when I visited Adrian with mother and Muzzie in 1912, after mother had told me what a large part he had played in the life of the family. He had been born in slavery and could remember driving his master behind a pair of fiery horses.
My grandfather, Mark, knew John D. Rockefeller, probably because he had bought oil, mostly kerosene at this time, from Rockefeller’s Cleveland refinery. At any rate, one day in 1869, John D. showed up in Adrian and asked my grandfather to go into partnership with him. I suppose the idea was for Mark to do selling and John D. manufacturing, fields in which both were experienced. But this was to require an investment of cash on the part of Mark.
Mark had no folding money but his wife, Frances, had bonds inherited from her father, but she thought this deal was for the birds. In the first place who was this Rockefeller from Cleveland? In the second place she was very happy in Adrian and had no intention at all of leaving all her friends and moving to Cleveland. Finally and most important, a baby--my mother--was on the way and it was no time to disrupt the family. So Frances took the bonds and hid them behind a framed picture when Mr. Rockefeller called. So that was that.
I gather that my grandfather may have been a bit careless in business matters and that my grandmother, trained by her thrifty Quaker father, felt that she had to hold him in check.
On a rainy day when I was about six years old I asked my mother for some paper on which to draw pictures. She produced several pads of letterheads of the Excelsior Galvanic Belt Co., of Adrian. There was a picture of the product. It was an ordinary belt but studded with electrodes emitting electricity, shown in the picture as little lightning flashes. Mother said it was a company in which her father had been interested, but she refrained from saying that she thought her father had been played for fish.
My grandfather, already having a daughter, hoped my mother would be a boy, so in some ways he tried to make a boy out of her. At the family’s summer cottage on Sand Lake he taught her swimming handling a rifle and sailing a boat. When I came along it was not father who taught me these things but my mother. Father had had no time to learn these things when he was young and too absorbed with his business to do anything with them later, so my mother largely played the roles of both parents when I was young. She taught me how to take pictures, handle a rifle, swim, row and sail boats and to drive an automobile. At one time we used to go together to an indoor skating rink on Chicago’s north side and both took lessons. When I was a senior in prep school but still hadn’t learned to dance, mother and I went to a small New York dance studio and again both of us took lessons. In some of this training Elbert too was very important. He taught me to dive, to ride a bicycle and much about the woods.
When I was in grammar school mother gave me much of my instruction. Our practice was to leave Kenilworth for the farm about May 15th and not return until October 14th, so I missed a month or school on both ends of the summer. Mother would visit my teacher and find out exactly what was to be covered, and she and I would then spend about two hours each morning on my studies. I always returned to school ahead of my class and finished grammar school in six years instead of eight.
Mother had loved horses since she was about five years old, and rode well either side-saddle or astride. In 1922 she bought me a small horse named Billy which we kept at the farm. In the summer time we rented another horse and rode together almost every day.
When I was in school we had talked of buying a boat but had never gotten to it. Then one day when mother and I were driving through the Long Island town of Huntington, we saw three 32-foot ketches partly finished. I was surprised and overjoyed when mother said she would buy one. At first we had an old-timer, Captain Sammis, to teach us about the boat. Mother learned fast and so did I so before long we were handling the boat without professional help.
In 1927 we built Valgerda II which was largely a 42-foot copy of the first boat and a gorgeous craft. After I left home mother had as an employee a fine young man named Francis Jackson.
She would often go out with no one aboard except Francis and some of her lady friends, all over sixty. She became quite famous around Huntington.
In all this father approved of everything mother was doing but took no real interest in it. He would go with us on the boat only occasionally. He had never gotten over the dim view of the sea acquired going back and forth to Alaska at the turn of the century.
I tried to spend a week of my summer vacation with mother. Peggy and I with a group of friends of our own age would take the boat for a week and then I would cruise with mother and Francis for the second week.
This went on until 1941 when mother’s arthritis became so bad she had to go to a sanitarium in Tucson and later in Winnetka where she died in June 1943.
I have talked about my mother as a pal, but she was also as fine a mother as anyone ever had. She would give up anything for herself if doing so would contribute to the health or happiness of Elbert or me.
When I was five years old I disobediently crawled up on the bench of the farm workshop and took down the drawknife. In playing with it I slit my nose so that its end was hanging loosely supported only by a piece of skin. The only help available was from a country doctor named Butterfield, but he was a good one. He wanted to sew my nose together but mother wouldn’t let him for fear that it might disfigure my face. So he put the two pieces together with surgical adhesive tape, and mother sat by my cot for thirty-six hours to prevent me from rolling over and opening the wound. The scar disappeared after a couple of years, but to this day my nose is a little more pug than it was supposed to be.
I took all my troubles to mother until I was grown and left home. I always received loving sympathy and good practical advice as to how to deal with each trouble.
Before I leave the Chittendens I want to say something about Cousin Harry. He was the son of Mark’s brother, Henry and hence mother’s first cousin. He was born in l874 and spent most of his life in Los Angeles.
During mother’s last months she told me Cousin Harry had come east and had visited her in Garden City. She also told me that he had invented perpetual motion. I told Mrs. Winterson, who was looking after mother, to be sure to stall mother if she asked for her check book when Cousin Harry was around.
Then Cousin Harry heaped coals of fire. One day in 1951 I had one of those longed for letters from a law firm saying I had inherited money. The letter had come from Los Angeles and, sure enough, Cousin Harry had died intestate leaving Marion, Evelyn, Elbert and me as his heirs. About two thousand dollars seemed to be involved.
Marion took the letter to a friend of hers who was the head of one of the top Chicago law firms. He said it was an unusual and interesting case and that he would like to follow it and advise us without charge. The Los Angeles court passed the buck to the court in Adrian because no one in Los Angeles knew anything about it.
The hearing was held in Adrian and Marion and Evelyn attended. Harry’s mother’s family of which we had not known got a slice, but there was still about $174 for each of the four Chittenden heirs. With my money I bought a drill press.
Marion and Evelyn got the small end of the stick because the court allowed them traveling expenses only to the western border of Michigan -- about one quarter of the way. But they enjoyed seeing Adrian again although they were saddened by its deterioration from what it was when they had known it as girls.
I still have the drill press and think kindly of Cousin Harry every time I use it.
The first member of this family of whom we have a record was Amos Aldrich who was probably born near Boston about 1790. We know definitely that he was living in Roxbury, Massachusetts in the 1820’s having married Betsy Low Nolen there about 1821. They had seven children:
The first Amos Aldrich died in 1855. His wife, Betsy, lived until 1887.
He was a devout Quaker, and the story goes that when he thought the boys were making too much noise for a Sabbath afternoon, he would shout down the stairs, “Quit thee thy whistling.” He was a woolen manufacturer. Whether he wove cloth or just finished it is not known.
Then, in 1831 after having produced five children, Amos decided to move his family and business away from Roxbury because he didn’t like the way the industrial revolution was developing. He didn’t want his children to have to go to work “at the ringing of the bell.”
Why they chose the pioneer village of Adrian, Michigan is not known. But they gathered up their five children, their household goods and Amos’s textile machinery and started off.
They took the newly completed railroad from Boston to Albany, the Erie Canal to Buffalo, a sailing ship on Lake Erie to Monroe, Michigan, and an ox team over the forty miles to Adrian. What a trip for poor Betsy with five children ranging from eight years to a few months. But she was made of stern stuff and lived to be ninety-one.
In Adrian the Aldrich’s established a farm as well as the manufacturing business. I have been to and even took a picture of the house where they lived, a very respectable brick structure typical of its period.
I think the woolen business may have been phased out in favor of farming shortly after the arrival in Adrian. I can’t remember my grandmother saying much about it whereas she expounded at length on the beautiful apples her father used to raise without spraying a single tree and, therefore, how silly the spraying of modern times really was.
The first Nancy Aldrich died as an infant just after the family reached Adrian in 1832. The second Nancy was born in 1833 but lived only to the age of l3. The final child, Frances, who was my grandmother, was born in 1842.
Although Amos was a devout Quaker his children were not all raised in that faith. I do not know about the boys, but Lucy and Frances followed their mother into the Episcopal Church which had been the church of the Langleys and Nolens.
Of the seven Aldrich children the two Nancy’s died young, but all the others married, had children and lived to respectable ages. William and Amos may have made unsuccessful tries at the old fields because my grandmother said that when she was young there was a Conestoga wagon that had belonged to them parked in the yard. Later they moved to other parts of the country where they married and raised families. But I never heard anything about them and so can tell nothing here.
Of the other three -- Lucy, George and, above all my grandmother Frances -- I have much to say. Lucy lived in Adrian from the time she arrived in 1832 until she died in 1912.
She married Stephen Ayers there, had a son named William and a grandson named George. From my earliest days I remember hearing about Aunt Lucy who was much loved by my mother and grandmother. She visited us in Kenilworth when I was very young. I don’t remember much about it but have pictures taken by my mother to prove it was so. During one of these trips I was baptized, and the baptism certificate shows that Aunt Lucy stood up as one of my godmothers.
Then in 1912 my mother and grandmother went to Adrian for Lucy’s terminal illness and death they dragged me along. At Aunt Lucy’s request I was led in to see her in bed and she said to me, “Young man, I’ve heard about your scalawags in the duke’s garden.” Mother and I had just returned from Europe and Aunt Lucy had been told of some of our adventures there.
I was spared the funeral. Mother bought me a velocipede that I rode around Aunt Lucy’s neighborhood, watched over by one Mrs. Richards when mother and Muzzie were not around.
Most of Aunt Lucy’s furniture went to mother and one piece at least came eventually to Peggy and me. It is a tip-top table that is now in Betty’s house in Maine.
While in Adrian we stayed at the hotel Lenawee. What I remember best were the porter’s calls in the lobby, “Lake Shore east and west” or “Wabash east and west” to announce the departure of the hotel’s horse drawn busses that met all the trains. There seemed to be one about every hour. We stayed in Adrian about ten days.
George Aldrich I never saw but heard much about him from my grandmother. She would sometimes astound the assembled company with the statement, “My brother, George, was in the state penitentiary at Jackson for twenty years.” The statement was true enough but incomplete. George, who was a skilled cabinet maker, was on the prison staff in charge of the woodworking shop.
As a wedding present for his sister, Lucy, he built a beautiful cherry wood chest of drawers. At the Same time he made a model of it as a doll’s chest for his little sister, Nancy. These beautiful pieces of furniture eventually came to my mother and were in our Kenilworth house. Lacking daughters, my mother willed them to the oldest girl of the next generation. This was Marion Calkins Bergweger; I presume she still has them. She now lives in Portland, Maine.
[An aside from 2006: “Patricia Foley in memory of Marion Calkins Burgweger ’35” appears in the Smith College Libraries Annual Report of Donors July 1, 2002 – June 30, 2003.]
This brings us to Frances, the youngest child of Amos and Betsy, born in 1842. She was my grandmother and, like the other grandchildren, I always called her Muzzie. I loved her dearly and have always felt that she had a great influence on my life, of which I am proud.
She had very definite ideas. One was that she was a Democrat and had no use for any Republican, not even for Abraham Lincoln. The rest of the family followed the politics of my father who was a founder of the Chicago Union League Club.
Muzzie was a great admirer of Woodrow Wilson. When in 1914 he opened the Panama Canal by pressing a button Muzzie made me read her every word of the story. I had just learned to read, but managed.
My grandmother was an aristocrat. Whether born one or not she felt like one, and might even have been called a snob. At one time I used to read to her from the Adrian Daily Telegram in which the personals were of particular interest to her. Every once in a while I would call out someone’s name and she would stop me before I could start reading with, “Don’t read that. Not representative people.”
She was loyal to a fault to the family. She Came to Kenilworth and took over when Brownie died and left her grandchildren and my father’s two children motherless. And that wasn’t all. Edward and Nettie were not related to Muzzie by blood, but as members of the family they received her full loyalty. When Edward came down with typhoid while he was in college it was Muzzie who traveled to Colorado to take care of him. In 1915 Nettie was planning to marry Charles McReynolds, a lieutenant in the Marine Corps. He was coming to Kenilworth but at the last minute could not get leave. It was Muzzie who took Nettie to Vallejo, California where Charles was stationed, to represent the family at the wedding there.
When I was a freshman at New Trier High School my grandmother was living in a small house just across the street. At that time I was taking my lunch in a box, and most days I would go over to Muzzie’s house and eat it while I visited with her. I enjoyed her company more than that of my schoolmates.
My grandmother was tremendously loyal to the Episcopal church and, I am sure, inspired me with some of that loyalty. I remember being surprised to see her walking to church on a Sunday morning when I thought she could hardly get out of bed. One of her sayings was, “I would no more leave my church because I didn’t like the minister than I would leave my home because I didn’t like the servants.”
After we moved to Garden City Muzzie came to live with us until she died in 1925. I had just learned to drive and loved to take the car out. Muzzie loved to be driven. We talked of history, morals, manners and many other things. Muzzie was always good company and I still remember how much I enjoyed these drives. I am also sure they were an important part of my education.
The first member of this family of whom we know was Thomas Nolen, who lived in the Boston area in the 1700’s. He married Elizabeth Blaney [sp?: the “a” is obscured in the original manuscript] and died in 1785. They had four children but it is only about the youngest, George born in 1787 that we know anything interesting, because it was he who sired our branch of the family and all the Nolens of other branches that we know anything about. He died in 1840.
He married Esther Langley. They had six children but I have something to tell about only three.
The first of the three is Betsy Low Nolen born in 1796. She married Amos Aldrich and was my great grandmother. She lived until 1887 and so was known and much loved by my mother.
Betsy told my mother about many things. One was her memory of the mock funerals that were held in all the towns and villages when George Washington died in 1799. They were very solemn and left quite an impression on the little girl of three.
She married Amos Aldrich and went west to Adrian, Michigan with him and her family in 1831 and lived there the rest of her life.
She bore my grandmother, Frances Aldrich, in 1842 when she was 46 years old. My mother’s only memory of her was that of a little old lady who stayed close to the rocking chair and the fire. These memories were probably of about 1872 when Betsy was 76. Mother contrasted this memory with modern times when women in their seventies are still active.
Betsy died at 91 in 1887.
Mother also told that she was a great reader but only of rather heavy books not too available in Adrian. She had some friend who was a judge there, and he supplied her with the books she wanted.
This story seems to imply considerable education that Betsy must have received as a girl. She certainly had little time for it while raising seven children. This with a few other miscellaneous facts, particularly my grandmother’s gentle snobbishness, leads me to believe that the Langleys and the Nolens were drinking tea in Boston drawing rooms at a time when most of my other ancestors were tilling the soil.
Mother also used to tell how happy her grandmother was in her late years because she had her “second sight.” She had been unable to read for a few years and then her vision returned. Then she could and did read voraciously.
Until this year I always thought that this second sight business was nineteenth century family folklore. But When I went to the Boston Eye and Ear Infirmary for a very thorough eye examination by one Dr. Charles Reegan, he was interested in the eye troubles of my ancestors. I told him the story about Betsy Nolen Aldrich but said I took it all with a grain of salt. He said not at all; that it sounded to him like a cataract which had dried up and fallen out and that he had seen this in his practice. Reegan would neither confirm nor deny that my eye trouble might be inherited, but I think the facts show it is.
My great grandmother, Betsy Nolen Aldrich, my grandmother Frances Aldrich Chittenden and my mother, Hallie Chittenden Isom all had very severe eye troubles diagnosed in various ways over a period of almost a century. Also my sister Evelyn who shares all of these ancestors except Hallie Chittenden Isom, appears to have macular degeneration just as I do.
Going back to the children of George Nolen, I want to say something about the youngest child, Nancy, born in 1806. She married James Verry. Their first child, Isadore Verry (Cousin Izzy) was born in Woonsocket, Rhode Island in 1849. In due course she married Daniel Pond. They had five children. The first two died young but Peggy and I came to know and become fond of the three eldest, Maud, Nan and Grace, all born around 1870.
They lived their entire lives in the ancient Woonsocket mansion in which they were born. Maud married Frank Farnam when she was about fifty years old and he moved in with her and her two sisters in the old family house. Nan and Grace never married.
My mother and I visited them in 1923. At that time their mother, who was called Cousin Izzy, was living with them. All I remember is how much she looked and acted like my grandmother whose first cousin she was. I was also impressed by the family resemblance between Maud and my mother who was her second cousin.
Mother, Peggy and I visited them in the fall of 1928. A couple of months later Frank Farnam was taken seriously ill. He was brought to the Charlesgate Hospital and the three ladies moved into the Riverbank Court Hotel. Both of these institutions were at Massachusetts Avenue and Memorial Drive, Cambridge, one long block from the apartment in which Peggy and I lived while I was at M.I.T. We saw them frequently and did what we could for them.
Frank lived only about ten days and poor Maud, who had waited for him until she was fifty, was a widow after only a few years.
I think Peggy and I visited the Ponds again, and I know I spent a night with them in Woonsocket while I was on a business trip in 1937.
On that occasion Maud took me for a walk around their premises which comprised about three acres and had three houses which they rented. It was on a promontory overlooking the smoking Blackstone River valley. It had no doubt been a beautiful place in the early nineteenth century and was still a little oasis in the midst of industrial squalor.
I remember how Maud, with a sweep of her arm, pointed out the extent of their domain and then added as a final touch, “and all of our tenants are Episcopalians.”
Maud died in the early 1940’s, and a few years later Nan and Grace moved into the Brothers Nursing Home in Woonsocket. We visited them there just about the time we moved to Darien.
A year or two later our Christmas card was returned with the notation, “Deceased. Left no forwarding address.”
Another son of George and Esther Nolen was Nathaniel. Nathaniel had a son named George and George had a son named Walter. Walter became a prominent Boston surgeon, and the Pond sisters thought a great deal of him.
I talked with him once on the telephone. In the spring of 1929 Peggy developed a growth on her neck, and some one recommended Dr. Lahey to deal with it. Dr. Lahey’s fame had not yet developed, and we had never heard of him. So I thought of my distant cousin and phoned him to get more information about Lahey.
He said he knew who I was from the Pond sisters and was very gracious. He said he didn’t care for Lahey personally but that he was perfectly all right professionally. His first recommendation was of Dr. Dan Jones. Lahey did the job with complete success.
Samuel Langley, the first member of the family of whom we know, lived in Boston in the 1700’s. He married and in 1772 had his first child, Esther. In due course she married George Nolen and had the distinction of becoming my great-great-grandmother.
The Langleys moved to Rhode Island, probably to Warwick, the year Esther was born. Before they finished up they had five boys and three girls.
I know nothing of any of them except Esther. However, I have a document which mentions a Langley who chased pirates in Vineyard Sound. This may have been one of Samuel’s five sons.
Mother always told me we were related to the great physicist and aviation pioneer, Samuel Pierpont Langley. Mother was not too sure of this and could not trace the relationship. But it seams to me very likely that it existed.
Samuel Pierpont Langley, according to his published biography was born in Roxbury in 1834 and died in Washington in 1906. He was educated in Boston. The records of the family show there was a Samuel in every generation. It seems probable that he was a descendant of one of the five sons of the original Samuel Langley.
If so, we have reason to be proud. He was a physicist and astronomer. He gave particular attention to solar radiation and invented an instrument for measuring it. He wrote a book on astronomy which was used as a school textbook for many years. In his later years he was secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.
In 1896 he built and flew the first heavier than air power driven flying machine. According to my brother, Elbert, the power he used was steam. Elbert used to muse on the great things Langley might have accomplished if he had had the internal combustion engines available to his successors.
This airplane was only a big model and not designed to carry a man. Later Langley worked on man-carrying machines but never perfected them. He stopped this work in 1903 after the Wright brothers beat him to it. I have heard that many of the principles he developed are sound to this day and did much to help the infant airplane industry.
Langley’s name is commemorated in two places -- Langley Field in Virginia was named for him and a unit of solar radiation (sunshine) is called a langley.
If Langley was truly my distant cousin I am proud to bear his name. But I still like the guy who chased pirates and wish I knew more about him.