The next wave of English immigrants to New England took place in June & July 1630, in what is known as The Winthrop Fleet.
This fleet consisted of 11 ships led by the flagship Arabella carrying John Winthrop. Traveling with Winthrop were about 1,000 Puritans plus livestock and provisions which sailed from England to the Massachusetts Bay Colony during the first period of the Great Migration. Among these passengers were several of my maternal ancestors:
Isaac & Mary (Barker) Stearns with three children: John, Mary & Hannah.
William & Godethe (Gillman) Learned with five children: Sarah, Betha, Abigail, Elizabeth & Isaac.
Jonah Weed, who was single.
In future posts I will trace the lineage of each of these families through the generations leading to their relationship to me and my brother Charles Tollas and sister Carolyn (Tollas) Knapp.
First some historical background before writing about our first English ancestor immigrants. They were Walter & Ann Margaret Palmer and their five children: Grace, William Jonah, Elizabeth and John who lived at Nottinghamshire, England. Ann Margaret died before Walter and their children emigrated from the port of Gravesend, England aboard the Four Sisters in 1629 as part of the Higginson Fleet.
Walter & Ann Margaret Palmer, are Margie Tollas Bernard’s (as well as those of her brother Charles Tollas and sister Carolyn Tollas Knapp) maternal 9th great-grandparents; Don & Mark’s 10th great-grandparents, Mark Bryan, Christopher, Patric & Kyle’s 11th great-grandparents; and 12th great-grandparents to Mark Bryan & Michelle’s Holdin & Caleigh, and Patric & Jessica’s Nolan.
In 1620, the stockholders of The Plymouth Council of England were granted the right by English King James I to form the Plymouth Colony in what was known as New England. They in turn granted the Pilgrims the right to settle and they arrived at Plymouth on September 11, 1620.
The next significant settlement was that of John Endicott who was one of seven signatories to a colonizing land grant provided by Robert Rich, the Second Earl of Warwick on behalf of the Plymouth Council of New England. Endicott was chosen to lead the expedition to New England and sailed aboard the Abigail with fifty or so colonizers and servants on June 20, 1628, arriving in September. The settlement they organized was first called Naumkeag, after the local Indian tribe, but eventually renamed Salem in 1629 and Endicott became the first acting governor of New England.
Arrival of our Palmer Ancestors at New England
The following year, Endicott invited Francis Higginson, a Puritan minister [follower of John Calvin], to bring settlers to Salem. Higginson agreed and obtained a Royal Charter from King Charles I of England to form a colony. The Higginson Fleet set sail on the May 1,1629 with the following ships: George Bonaventure; Talbot; Lyon’s Whelp; Four Sisters; Pilgrim and Mayflower (a different ship than the Pilgrim’s Mayflower). The GB arrived June 22 and the rest on 29 June 1629. Walter Palmer and his five children were on the Four Sisters.
The Higginson Fleet brought with them 115 head of cattle, as well as horses and mares, cows and oxen, 41 goats, some conies (rabbits), along with all the provisions needed for setting up households and surviving till they could get crops in. They would have to build their lodgings for the coming winter from scratch. These were the first settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the main body would start coming in 1630 on the Winthrop Fleet. The Higginson Fleet arrived in Salem harbor on the 24 June 1629, and was greeted by a small group of settlers, led by John Endicott. This marks the second phase of what has become known as The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England between 1620–1633
“During the last week of June, or the first week of July, 1629, Mr. Thomas Graves, Rev. Francis Bright, with a part of the emigrants, settled in Charles-town. Describing the colony Higginson says:– There are in all of vs [us] both old and new planters about three hundred, whereof two hundred of are settled at Neihum-kek, now called Salem: and the rest have planted themselves at Masathulets [Massachusetts] Bay, beginning to build a towne there which wee doe call Cheriton, or Charles Towne.”
In the History of Charleston, Massachusetts is the record of the proceedings of the first town committee which lists the names of the settlers: Ralph Sprague; Richard Sprague; William Sprague; John Meech; Simon Hoyte; Abraham Palmer; Walter Palmer; Nicholas Stower; John Stickline, Mr. Graves and Rev. Bright their minister. Also present was Thomas Walford Smith who had lived there alone for several years.
“This newly created town committee then agreed: That this place on the north side of the Charles River, by the natives called Mishawum, shall be called Charlestown, which was also confirmed by Mr. John Endicott, governor.
“It is jointly agreed ad [and] concluded by the inhabitants of this town, that Mr. Graves do model and lay out the form of the town, with streets about the Hill, which was accordingly done and approved by the Governor.
“It is jointly agreed and concluded, that each inhabitant have a two acre lot to plant upon, and all to fence in common; which was accordingly by Mr. Graves measured out unto them.
“Upon which Ralph Sprague and others began to build there [their] houses, and to prepare fencing for their lots, which was afterwards set up almost in a semi-circular form on the south and south-east side of that field laid out to them, which lies situated on the north-west side of the Town Hill.
“Walter Pamer [Palmer] and one or two more, shortly afterwards began to build in a straight line upon their two acre lots on the east side of the Town Hill, and set up a slight fence in common that ran up to Tho. Walford’s fence, and this was the beginning of that east field.”
Abraham Palmer, a merchant, was one of the prominent men of the colony. He … came over in Higginson’s fleet in 1629, and arrived in this town [Charlestown, Massachusetts] with Graves. He died at Barbados, about 1653. His wife’s name was Grace and apparently they had no children. As a merchant Abraham was engaged in trade between the New England Colony and Barbados. Barbados became an English Colony in 1627 dedicated to sugar plantations and slave trade: One wonders what Abraham traded in?
Walter Palmer is mentioned in the first record of the Massuchetts Bay Court of Assistants on September 28, 1630, in a jury called to make a determination into the death of Austin Bratcher a servant of one of the settlers, William Cheseborough. It found “that the strokes given by Walter Palmer, were occasionally e [the] means of the death of Austin Bratcher, and so to be manslaughter.” Walter was tried at the next Court in October, and acquitted. Later, he was made freeman 1631, [citizen] and constable in 1636.
In 1632, Walter married his second wife, Rebecca Short. They had five sons and two daughters: Hannah, Elihu, Nehemiah, Moses, Benjamin, Gersham, and Rebecca.
In 1642, he moved his family to Rehoboth, Massachusetts, of which he was one of the founders. He was chosen to represent that town at the Massachusetts Bay General Court.
In 1652, Walter & Rebecca moved to Stonington, Connecticut of which he is a founder. This commemorative stone was erected, August 31, 1899, by the Wequetequock Burial Ground committee at Stonington to honor its four founders: William Cheseborough, Thomas Minor, Thomas Stanton and Walter. Minor married Walter’s daughter Grace.[The surname Minor was changed to Miner and remains thus in official documents] The wording on Walter’s side of this stone states:
“Walter Palmer one of the founders of Stonington. Emigrated to New England in 1629 and settled in Charleston, Mass. Became a Freeman May 18, 1631, and united with the Charlestown Church June 1, 1633. Removed to Rehoboth Plymouth Colony in 1642 and represented that town in the General Court. Came to Stonington in 1652 and lived here until his death Nov. 10, 1661. At his home near this spot was held the first religious service between the Thames River and Narragansett Bay.”
In his will, Walter left property to his sons John, William, Gersham, Elihu, Nehemiah, Moses, Benjamin; and daughters Grace, Hannah, and Rebecca. He left to Jonah, who was already residing there, his “lot at Seeconk” which became part of Rehoboth .
As reported in the New York Tribune, August 12, 1881, Walter Palmer ancestors made a pilgrimage to his last residence at Stonington.
“Yesterday morning about half-past nine, more than five hundred of the [Palmer] family went by special train to view the site of the house in which their principal ancestor lived during a part of his residence in Pawcatuck (Stonington) and also the ancient Wequetequock Burying Ground where he was buried. These are situated about two and a half miles from the center of the borough. A number also went out bycarriage and a few walked to….Walter Palmer’s estate, embracing about 1200 acres, [which] lay on the east side of the cove, and extended from its upper end down to the ocean. The burying ground was set apart by him and originally bordered on the cove. Now, however, a road runs along the shore and is divided from the burial plot by a substantial stone fence. It is not an absolute certainty that Walter Palmer and hiswife Rebekah are buried here, but it is believed his bones lie under a huge “hog back” stone….There is no inscription or mark whatever upon the stone which is 6 ft. 11 in. in length—the reputed height of Walter Palmer, whose weight was 300 pounds—and must weight at least a ton. One reason why this believed to be thegrave of this ancestral Palmer is that a stone marking the burial spot of his son Nehemiah stands along side of the stone already described. Another of Walter Palmer’s children, his oldest daughter, Grace, who married Thomas Minor, is also buried a rod or two away, together with her husband. A flat stone covers the common grave, bearing the figure “1690”. His son Elihu, who died in 1655 is buried here, and the first wife of his son Gershom [Ann Dennison].”
President Ulysses S. Grant had agreed to attend the pilgrimage but had to cancel due to the death of his youngest brother Orvil Lynch Grant.
Furthermore, Walter’s daughter Hannah by his second wife married John Fish whose ancestors are also famous in U.S. history; two of whom, brothers Hamilton & Nicholas Fish are friends of mine from our Washington, DC days in the 1980s. One of their ancestors, whom I believe is a great-grandfather, also named Hamilton Fish, was President Grant’s Secretary of State from 1869 to 1877.
This link provides Walter Palmer’s descendants, through the fifth-generation.
Our Irish ancestral link begins with the birth of my 2nd great-grandmother Eliza O’Meara born 23 February 1834 at Gortmore Townland, Youghalarra Parish, County Tipperary, Ireland to Daniel & Margaret (D’Arcy) O’Meara. She was baptized 25 February and her godparents were Patrick D’Arcy and Brigid O’Meara. These surnames are also spelled as Darcy and Meara. where she was baptized.
Daniel and Margaret (Darcy) O’Meara immigrated from County Tipperary, Ireland. They first settled in Plympton, Lambton, County, Ontario, Canada sometime between 1845/48. This dating is based on the fact that their last child born in Ireland was John (Feb 1845) and their first born in Canada was William (Jul 1848). These are the children who emigrated with them: Mary, Eliza, Patrick, Ellen, Margaret, James and John. William and Theresa were born after their arrival in Canada. They stayed in Canada for a while then ‘walked’ to Emmett, St. Clair County, Michigan where they settled. They lived there about six years and then moved to Kenakee Township, St. Clair County, Michigan. According to the History of Gratiot County by Willard D. Tucker:
There the parents passed the remainder of their lives; substantial and influential farmers of the township and respected members of the community. Daniel O’Meara died in 1886; and Margaret Darcy O’Meara died in 1884. The nine children of Mr. and Mrs. Daniel O’Meara – all excepting the youngest still living – are given in their order as follows: Mary, Eliza, Patrick, Ellen Bridget, Margaret, James, John, William and Theresa.
Eliza R. O’Meara married Ira Briggs at Port Huron, Mi on September 15, 1854. He was the brother of Merrick D. Briggs, who was married to Eliza’s sister Ellen Bridget.
With the exception of about two years in Sanilac County, Eliza and Ira Briggs resided continuously in St. Clair County until the spring of 1881, when they moved to St. Louis, Gratiot County, where they resided until the winter of 1904-05. While on a visit at the home of their daughter, Mrs. Cora Goldsmith, at Edmore, Michigan. Mr. Briggs, who had been in poor health for many years with rheumatism and kindred ailments, was called to rest, passing away on February 22, 1905. He was a man with many admirable qualities, respected by all. He was buried in the Edmore cemetery.
After the death of her husband, Mrs. Eliza Briggs lived in Edmore with Cora and her husband. “It is but simple justice to say that she is a woman of sterling worth. For many years, her husband being incapacitated for business in his later life, owing to ill health, by her industry, energy and indomitable persistence in conducting her business (dressmaking); she provided a comfortable living for her family, feeding, clothing and educating them in a way that would have been a credit to anyone with twice her strength and resources. She is fully entitled to a vacation of perfect leisure; but to keep her idle it would be necessary to bind her, hand and foot; and the law would not permit that.
Cindy cites where she obtained her information thus: [3, 10-13, 15] with the numerals referring to a specific individual listed as SOURCES at the end of her research.
My notes are indicated by brackets [ ] in bold text noted as MTB which stands for Margie (Tollas) Bernard.
Johanna Henrietta (Loraff) Schultz Biography by Cindy Schroder
In Germany she had a very good friend in Mrs. Bismarck. Mrs. Bismarck often would visit Henrietta in her home. Henrietta’s daughter, Emma, remembered that Mrs. Bismarck had a coachman who drove a handsome carriage [Hansom Carriage. MTB] drawn by white horses. She would arrive and depart this way. [3, 10-13,15]
Carl Greiffendorf was a “coachman” for the von Puttkammer family. Carl Greiffendorf (born 1825), was the brother of Wilhelmine Greiffendorf Gast. It is not known if this is the coachman who drove Mrs. Bismarck to Henrietta’s home though. 
She always had a large (2’x3′) full body picture of the Bismarck hanging in their home until WWI when it was impounded by the government. It was a full length picture of him in color. 
Johanna von Puttkamer was born Reinfeld on 11 April 1824. She married Bismarck on 28 June 1847 in Alt Kolziglow Pommern. Johanna died on 27 November 1894 in Varzin. 
She raised her granddaughter, Minnie Knuth. A daughter Minna Schultz [sic] is named in her probate – this must be Minnie Knuth. [3, 9]
She had a birthday on New Year’s Day and all her children who were able to come always came to help her celebrate. She would really have a houseful on that day. No one was especially invited, but everybody who was able to come would come so her little house almost burst at the seams at times. Gifts were always brought to her on her birthday. This is how she got so many of her pretty dishes, some of which Marty shared with Elsie. 
[“Marty” is the nickname of Martha (Schultz) Tietz. MTB]
The 4th of July was another day every relative who was in town would come to the house to eat. Kids were going in and out of the house all day long. It took the whole next day to get the flies out of the house. 
Henrietta had a couple of bushel of amber canning jars that her daughter, Martha, later smashed and buried in her yard in Baroda.  Henrietta took Minnie to raise when Pauline [Paulina. MTB] died in childbirth. Martha was ten years old and was jealous of Minnie. Many times Martha would blame things on Minnie and Henrietta would punish Minnie. 
[Wilhelminia Henrietta (Minnie) (Knuth) Siewert was born on 11 May 1860. Her mother Paulina (Schultz) Knuth died that same day. Her father was Carl Knuth. Paulina and Carl married in Reinfeld, County Rummelsburg, Pommern. They had three (3) sons born there: Emil Carl Gustav (1882-1948); Carl August (1884 – ); William Herman (1886-1970). (Paulina is my paternal Great-Aunt and Minnie my 1st cousin 1x removed.) Minnie was born in Michigan in 1893, so they must have immigrated sometime between 1886-1893. Prior to marring Paulina, Carl had been married to Augusta Loraff who died in 1879. They had three (3) sons and one (1) daughter. After Paulina died, Carl married a third time in 1896 to Johanna Reischke. MTB]
Carl Knuth had his eye on Marty Schultz (who later married Will Tietz) after his wife Pauline Schultz (Marty’s sister) died. He wanted to marry Marty, but Henrietta really put her foot down and told him “NO” he had enough kids – to go marry someone his own age. Also Henrietta didn’t approve of Marty marrying Will Tietz. She was very much against it because he was a heavy drinker and “boozer.” She was very much against Marty marrying anyone and insisted she stay home with her and take care of her. (Note Henrietta’s death date and Marty and Will’s marriage date.) 
She only had one tooth when she was older. It was a wide tooth on the side between two stubs. 
All the children had blue eyes except Marty who had green eyes.  [I also have green eyes. MTB]
Many German people stayed with Martin and Henrietta when first arriving in St. Joseph from Germany. The Schulz’s lived very close to the train station in St. Joseph in a very small house. All of that area is now vacation/beach homes as it is right off the beach of Lake Michigan. The house is about a block and a half south of the railroad station just below the bluff and facing the bluff. 
Aged Woman Died This Afternoon 
Mrs. Henrietta Schultz, who has been gradually failing for the past eight months, died this afternoon at 1:30 at her home on Vine Street, at the age of 75 years. Death was due to old age.
Mrs. Schultz came to this city 32 years ago from her native country, Germany, where she was born January 1, 1840.
There are surviving her three sons, Henry Schultz of Court street and August and Herman of Baroda, four daughters, Mrs. Huldah [Hulda. MTB] Tollas of this city, Mrs. Bertha Krause and Mrs. Peter [sic] Krause of Scottdale, and Miss Martha Schultz and a grand-daughter, Minnie Knuth, both of whom reside at the family home on Vine street.
She also has a brother, Carl Loraff, residing in South Dakota. Mrs. Schultz was a member of St. Peter’s Evangelical church. [Carl became a successful rancher in South Dakota. MTB]
Mrs. Schultz Buried This Afternoon 
Preceded by brief prayer services at the family residence on Vine street, the funeral of the late Mrs. Henrietta Schultz was held from St. Peter’s Evangelical church at 2 o’clock this afternoon.
The Ladies’ Aid society of which Mrs. Schultz was an active member, attended in a body and sang “The Rest of the Soul at Home,” and a choir made up of Misses Tillie Schrage, Helen Buehler, Louise Fechner and Lydia Tollas, and Messrs. August Biastock, Ferdinand Streich, Arthur Haase, William Meschke and Edward Archut, sang “Longing For the Heavenly Home” and “At Home.”
Messrs. Fred, Henry and Herman Kasischke, Charles Taubie and Fred and Albert Bartz acted as pallbearers. The burial took place in the city cemetery.
Card of Thanks. 
We wish to thank the friends and neighbors for their kindness during the sickness and death of our mother. We also thank the Ladies’ Aid society of St. Peter’s Evangelical church.
Miss Martha Schultz,
Miss Minnie Knuth,
Mr. and Mrs. Herman Krause,
Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Krause,
Mr. and Mrs. William Tollas,
Mr. and Mrs. August Schultz,
Mr. and Mrs. Herman Schultz,
Mr. and Mrs. Henry Schultz.
1910 US Census: 614 Vine St., St. Joseph, Berrien Co., Michigan ; (all birthplaces Germany except Minnie, she was born in Michigan.
Schultz, Henrietta 70 widow mother of 12 – 8 living
Paul (son) 29 single, Occupation: Hauling – own team
Great-grandmother Mary Elizabeth Disbrow‘s parents, were Erastus &Roxanna (Rogers) Disbrow. Erastus was born 1815 in the Catskill Mountains town of Windham, Greene County, New York to Meeker & Chloe (Abbott) Disbrow.
Although the 1950 U.S. Census indicate Roxanna was also born in New York State, we don’t know where; there have also been several versions of her forename, Roxanah, Roxanna, Raxalena, Roxsalany. A semi-official record of her family surname was given in the death certificate of their son, Robert S. Disbrow, provided by Robert’s son (her & Erastus’s grandson), Roy Disbrow. The names he provided for his father’s parents are: Erastes Disbrow & Raxalena Rodgers, so at best this is third-hand information. Until further information is uncovered I will accept her as my 2ndgreat-grandmother Roxanna (Rogers) Disbrow.
There are also numerous versions of the Disbrow surname as noted in Descendants of Thomas & Mercy (Holbridge) Disbrow: Part One, The First Six Generationscompiled by Michael S. Disbrow for the Disbrow Family Association.
So how ancient is our honorable name? As it was applied to a small parish in the western part of the county of Northampton in England, it was in use by 1086 when mention was made of it in the “Domesday Book”. As it was then spelled Dereburg, Desburg or Diesburg – it didn’t bear much resemblance to the name we are familiar with, but eventually it came to be spelled “Desborough,” and the town is still known by that name today. Archeological discoveries made in the area show that there were both Celtic and Roman settlements at Desborough, and the place has quite probably been occupied for 2,000 years or more. There is more than one theory ascribed to how the place took its name. One is that it was called “Danesborough” because it was a place of refuge for the local inhabitants from the marauding Vikings. Or perhaps it was “Daysborough”, a place or borough of Judgement. (Disbrow, p.9)
Again, although I have been unable to obtain official documents of their wedding, some give 5 May 1842 as the date Erastus & Roxanna married in Milan, Erie County, Ohio and Roxanah (sic) is given as the name of his wife on the 1850 U.S. Census. We also don’t know the official date of her death but family records say it was at Milan, Erie, Ohio in 1853.
In 1850 Erastus Disbrow was living in Milan Twp., Erie Co., OH. In the census he’s listed as age 35, a carpenter, with Roxanah 35, Sylvester 7, Mary 9, Jane 3 and Hannah 1. By 1860 Erastus had married his second wife Betsey and the family was living in Michigan Twp., LaPorte Co., IN. (Disbrow, p. 197)
The official records of Huron County, Ohio give the date of Erastus & Betsey Ann Barker’s marriage as 30 July 1854. Interestingly, the 1860 U.S. Census lists a Marion Disbrow under Erastus name which is usually the slot where the name of a wife is entered. Then on the 1870 and subsequent censuses, Betsey A. is recorded in the wife slot. Some family historians, in their attempt to reconcile these two different names, combine them as Marion Betsey A. I don’t know who Marion is nor where Betsey Ann may have been when the 1860 census was taken so this remains a mystery; then again, it could be a recording error by the census taker.
Erastus & Roxanna’s children were: Lemuel Sylvester born 1843, Milan, Erie County, Ohio; Mary Elizabeth born 20 October 1846, Milan, Erie County, Ohio; Jane Fanny born 10 November 1847, Milan, Erie County, Ohio; Hannah Emma** born 7 July 1849, Milan, Erie, Ohio; Robert Scott born 17 October 1851, Gilead, Branch County, Michigan.
Roxanna & Erastus’ daughter, Jane Fanny, my 2nd great-aunt, shares the same birth year (1847) and birthplace (Milan, Ohio) as does Thomas Alva Edison. As his family lived at Milan before moving to Port Huron, Michigan when he was seven, one can speculate that Jane, as well as her older siblings, my great-uncle Lemuel & great-grandmother Mary Elizabeth may have been playmates with Edison or even attended the same grammar school.
Civil War Service
Sometime before 1860 the family moved from Ohio to Indiana. There, Lemuel Sylvester, Erastus & Roxanna’s eldest son, enlisted in the Grand Army of the Republic, 9th Regiment, Company B, Indiana Infantry at La Porte County, Indiana on 21 August 1861. Sadly, nearly four-years later he died on 20 June 1864 at Kennesaw Mountain, Georgia on the second day of what would be the biggest battle of the Civil War in Georgia. The battle was fought from June 19, 1864 until July 2, 1864. Lemuel was originally buried where he died but was later reinterred at the National Cemetery, Marietta, Georgia in Section N, Grave Number 4578.
By 1863, the family had moved to Mukwonago, Waukesha County, Wisconsin. On 16 February 1865, Erastus enlisted in the Union Army 48th Regiment, Wisconsin Infantry On 22 March it departed for St. Louis, Missouri. In April, the Regiment marched to Kansas. Erastus was a private in Company A which was assigned provost duty at Fort Scott until 25 August. In September, Company A was dispatched to Fort Zarah then assigned garrison duty at Fort Larned until December 1865.
According to this website, Legends of America, the role of Fort Scott during the Civil War was to house captured Confederate troops, however, its main purpose, before, during, and after the Civil War, was to serve as a “permanent Indian frontier” to “kept peace between white settlers, native peoples like the Osage, and relocated Eastern tribes.” This was also true of Fort Larned where great-grandfather Erastus was stationed.
His pension file shows that on 15 Apr. 1865 he was ruptured while fording Bear Creek on a march between Sedalia and Warrensburg, MO. Treated at Ft. Scott, KS. He was mustered out with his company at Ft. Leavenworth, KS, 30 Dec. 1865. In 1870 Erastus was residing at Poygan, Winnebago Co., a farmer, and was still there in 1877 when he applied for invalid pension for his service. Neighbors testified as to the “sad condition” Erastus was in since his return from the war: bronchitis, ulcerated liver, unable to do manual labor. Erastus and Betsey Ann went to live at the Wisconsin Veterans’ Home in Rural, Waupaca Co. in 1891, where they resided until their deaths. (Disbrow, p. 197)
I have also located information in the 1895 State of Wisconsin Census which gives the name of E. Disbrow as a resident of a veterans’ home in Farmington, Waupaca County, Wisconsin. This facility was later renamed as the Wisconsin Veteran’s Home. At the left is a photo of the Veteran’s Home Chapel established there by the Grand Army of the Republic.
Erastus & Betsey had three children: Eugene Benjamin born. 24 January. 1859, Ashland, Ashland County, Indiana; William Henry born 1 May 1866, Eaton Rapids, Eaton County, Michigan; Georgianna born 1868, Oshkosh, Winnebago County, Wisconsin.
I end this account of my maternal 2nd great-grandparents, Erastus and Roxanna (Rogers) Disbrow by referring you to this account of our earliest ancestral immigrants to New England: Arthur & Susanna (unknown) Holbridge and their daughter Mercy whose second husband was Thomas Disbrow 1st: Holbridge ~ Disbrow: Our Earliest New England Ancestors
**The name of Erastus & Roxanna’s third daughter is confusing. In the 1850 U. S. Census her name is given as Hannah; 1860 it is Emma E., and another family historian (Michael S. Disbrow) has given her name as Amelia/Emma E., however until I learn otherwise I will accept her name as Hannah Emma. This serves to prove that extra care need be taken when recording ancestral ‘facts’.
I am in the process of annotating the Descendants of Thomas & Mercy (Holbridge) Disbrow: Part One, The First Six Generations & Part Two — Generations 7 through 13 compiled by Michael Disbrow. After I unravel all the loose ends I will post a history of our Disbrow line which begins with Thomas & Mercy as generation one through my generation fifteen..
Jacob M. Kemp, was born on 11 July 1811, in Fayette City, Fayette County, Pennsylvania to Edward & Eve (Penrod) Kemp; his father was 39, his mother 37.For more information about them see the Kemp~Penrod Post.
Jacob & Harriet married 23 April 1830 in Plymouth, Richland County, Ohio. They had seven (7) children in 23-years and their fourth child, Narcissa, is my maternal 2nd great-grandmother. They were pioneers, living first on a farm in Richmond County, Ohio and after selling this they moved to Michigan buying another farm at Coe, Isabella County. This U.S. Agricultural Census of 1870 shows the number of acres owned at Coe by Joseph, as well as those of his sons Joseph and George. Later Jacob gave up farming and they moved to St. Louis, Gratiot, Michigan where Jacob opened a grocery store. Their eldest son Joseph was partner with W. A. Williams of another store in St. Louis that sold boots, shoes. crockery and glass-ware. Eventually Jacob took over Williams’ share and he and son Joseph were partners for four years before Jacob retired.
Jacob died on 24 November 1891 at the age of 80-years. The executives of his will, filed 7 December 1891, were Elias Phillips and Robert W. Hoy.
Jacob’s wife, Harriet Hoy, was born 22 February 1810, at Hagerstown, Washington County, Maryland to Robert & Alice (Talton) Hoy (sometimes spelled Hoey/Hoye); her father was 27, her mother 21. Harriet was the third of six girls and three sons born to Robert & Alice whose births and marriages were recorded in the Hoy Family Bible. For more information about Harriet’s parents see the Hoy~Talton Post.
My maternal grandparents, Arthur & Jennie, married 19 March 1905; he was 23, she 20. My Mother, Lena Mae Barker was their second child born 29 September 1907 at Sodus Township, Berrien County, Michigan. Oscar was their eldest and after Mom they had Forrest, William, Victor. She also had a younger sister, Leatha, who died at age 13.
The 1910 U.S. Census lists Grandpa Arthur as a Fruit Farmer. He registered for the World War I Draft on 12 September 1918 at which time he was 37 with a wife and four children so ineligible for army service. He again registered for the draft of World War II but by then he was 61. This record indicates he was 5″9′, weighed 165, had blue eyes, a ruddy complexion with a mole on his forehead, and black & grey hair. Grandma Jennie had divorced him sometime before the 1940 U.S. Census was taken as it listed him as single, however, on 19 September 1948, he married Louise (Brance) Meyers; a second marriage for them both.
His death certificate filed at the Berrien County clerk’s office states cause of death on 15 March 1966 was “carcinoma of sigmoid colon with congestive heart failure”. Sadly, I only have a dim memory of seeing him just once at his farm in Sodus when I was quite young.
As far as my Barker uncles are concerned, I was closest to Victor who was seven-years older than I. It was because of him I moved in 1951 from Michigan to Wheaton, Silver Spring County, Maryland, just inside the Washington, DC Beltway. I had graduated from Eau Claire High School and was staying at Grandma Barker home in Benton Harbor while looking for work. Uncle Vic and his family were visiting and he suggested I go back to Washington, DC with them and look for work there. I agreed and a few days later left with them.
I also spent time with Uncle Victor in the years before his death and attended his burial with military honors on Patton Drive at Arlington National Cemetery. Uncle Victor served under General George S. Patton during WW II but didn’t like him so there is a bit of irony that this was his final resting place!
Sometime in the 1960s when I was living in Santa Barbara, California, I visited my Uncle Oscar Barker at the pub he and his wife Dorothy owned at Ojai, Ventura County.
Henry L. & Mary Elizabeth (Disbrow) Barker
Grandfather Arthur was the fourth son of Henry L. & Mary Elizabeth (Disbrow) Barker. On 1 July 1863, they were living at Michigan City, LaPorte County, Indiana when Henry registered for the Civil War Union Army Draft; the record show he was 23, married, and employed as a Teamster. However, I have no information as to whether or not he served in the Union Army and couldn’t find him listed in the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database.
The 1880 U.S Census for Sodus, Berrien County, Michigan, taken the year before Arthur’s birth indicate his parents, with their three sons and two daughters, were living on the family farm at Sodus, Berrien County, Michigan. This census record indicated Arthur’s parents, my maternal great-grandparents, were both born in Ohio but, according to the information provided in the census, after marriage they had lived in Indiana & Wisconsin before settling on their farm in Michigan.
Grandpa Arthur was born 24 March, 1881. Sadly, nine-months to the day after his birth, his father Henry died of Typhoid Fever at the age of 44; Great-grandmother Mary was left with six children under the age of 17 and a farm to manage.
The 1990 Census show Arthur is still living with his widowed mother on the family farm and she states both her parents were born in New York. Also, living with them is Mary’s granddaughter Hattie V. Barker. She was born in 1891 in California to Mary’s son, William O. Barker, and his wife, Lizzie T. Venable, who was born in Virginia. On their marriage license William gave his occupation as Goldminer: his residence was North Bloomfield, Nevada County, California; hers was Benton Harbor, Berrien, Michigan. They were married 31 July 1889 by O. F. Landis, Minister of the Gospel at Sodus then went back to California where Hattie was born two-years later. On 17 June 1898, William registered to vote in California at Angels Camp, Calaveras, California. As of 23 May 2016 I have no more information about why Hattie was living with her grandmother or what may have happened to her parents.
Grandpa Arthur’s grandparents, my 2nd great-grandparents are John H. Barker & Jane McConkey. The 1850 U.S. Census states John was born about 1814 in New York State. His occupation was farmer and the value of the farm was $100 ($33,000 relative 2016 value) and that he could read and write English. His wife Jane who was born around 1817 in Ohio was not literate. At the date of this census they were living in New London, Huron County, Ohio with their three children: Henry age 13; O. Jeanette age 8; Stephen N. age 8 and indicate that all their children had attended school. I have no date for John’s death but Jane died in 1833 in Sodus Township, Berrien County, Michigan. As of 19 May 2016 I have no further information on the Barker~McConkey lines.
For more information about the Disbrow ancestry see the Disbrow~Rogers Post.
The following information about our grandmother was compiled by my sister: Carol Ruth (Tollas) Knapp
My grandmother, Jennie, was one of four children born to Fannie and Joseph Bennett in St. Louis, Michigan. A son, Willard, died in infancy. For some reason, she was adopted by her mother’s maternal grandmother, Narcissa Kemp, who married John Waldron after her first husband, James Bennett died in 1881. Her last name was changed to Waldron.
As Jennie Waldron, she was sent to live at the Lenawee County Michigan State Industrial School for Girls in Adrian, Michigan. Her name appears on the June 11, 1900 roster as Jennie Waldron, 16. This was a school that taught girls domestic trades, and she earned a cooking certificate there. She would never say why she was placed there, and the records have been sealed.
According to a description of the school, “when the board and superintendent were satisfied that girls are qualified, morally and otherwise, and it is to their welfare to leave the Home, places are found for them in the families of the farmers of the state. Great care is exercised in regard to these allotments, and girls can be called in at any time. Each girl receives a salary of from $1.50 to $2.50 per week, and a stipulated portion is returned quarterly to the Home and given the proper credit, the amount being returned to them upon receiving their final discharge.”
When she married my grandfather, Arthur Barker, her name on the marriage license was Jennie [Waldron not] Bennett. Their children were Oscar, Lena (my mother) Forrest, William, Letha (who died of a congenital heart condition in her teens) and Victor, who was a career Army officer and is buried in Arlington Cemetery.
My grandmother was divorced from my grandfather, and later married his first cousin, William Erastus Tritt, whose mother, Emma Hanna Amelia (Disbrow) Tritt, was the sister of my great-great-grandmother, Mary (Disbrow) Barker. She and William had no children.
In her later years she developed a dowager’s hump and walked with great difficulty. She came to live with her daughter and son-in-law Lena (my mother) and Alfred Tollas (my father) at 1056 Superior Street, Benton Harbor, where they moved after selling their home in Eau Claire in 1964. After a stroke, she was moved to a nursing home, where she passed away.
[After she and Grandpa Arthur divorced, she obtained work as] the housekeeper for Maurice Scofield, a prominent Benton Harbor, banker who committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning in his car on January 5, 1942. He bequeathed the family residence on Broadway Avenue, Benton Harbor to her.
The 1940 U.S. Census indicates Grandma Jennie lived at the Scofield residence at 486 Broadway Avenue. The house valued at $3,000 ($99,600 real value in 2016) was willed by Scofield to Grandma Jennie after he died two years later.
The last time I saw Grandma Jennie was when we spent a Thanksgiving dinner at her and William’s home in Benton Harbor, Michigan around 1957.
His obituary stated: Joseph Bennett was born in Williams County, Ohio on Jan. 29, 1854 and died at his home near Vestaburg, Michigan on Nov. 18, 1923 at the age of 69 years, 9 months and 15 days. When a boy he left Ohio and moved to St. Louis, Michigan with his parents, where he was united in marriage in 1882 with Miss Fannie Briggs. To this union was born four children: Mrs. Jennie Barker of Benton Harbor, Mrs. Lottie Snyder of Edmore, Charles Bennett of Belding and one son who died in infancy. Besides he leaves to mourn their loss a loving wife and one brother, Alonzo Bennett of St. Louis, Michigan and a host of friends. He also had brothers James, Edward and Charles. He was a machinist.
James M. & Narcissa (Kemp) Bennett
Great-grandfather, Joseph was the second son born to James M. & Narcissa (Kemp) Bennett who are my 2nd great-grandparents.In 1860 U.S. Census gives their address as Coe Township, Isabella County, Michigan. As their first child, Alonzo, was six-years of age indicates James and Narcissa may have married around 1854.
During the Civil War, James enlisted from Waverly, Michigan on 29 February 1864 into the Union Army. He was part of Company H, Michigan Thirteenth Infantry which was with General Sherman on his famous “march to the sea” that ended at Savannah, Georgia which surrendered on 16 December 1864. He also participated in the victory march at Washington, DC shortly thereafter. James was hospitalized on 5 July 1865 at Harper Hospital, Detroit, Michigan and was discharged from service there on 18 July.
The following is from Michigan Volunteers in the Grand Army of the Republic:
“The Michigan Thirteen Infantry was organized at Kalamazoo on 17 January 1862 under Col. Charles E. Stuart, Kalamazoo; U. S. Army Captain Orlando H. Moore, Schoolcraft; Maj. Frederick W. Worden, Grand Rapids; Surgeon, Alexander, Dexter; Asst. Surgeon, Foster Pratt, Kalamazoo; Adj. John B. Culver, Paw Paw; Quartermaster George F. Kidder, Kalamazoo.
“In January, 1864, the regiment veteranized, 173 re-enlisting, and returned to Kalamazoo, where it arrived the 12th and was furloughed for thirty days. It returned to Chattanooga on the 12th of April with a large number of recruits, [one of whom was 2nd Great-Grandfather James M. Bennett. (MTB)] and was soon actively engaged in the construction of military hospitals on Lookout Mountain, and in the pursuit of General Forest, until November , when it joined the army under General Sherman and was assigned to the Second Brigade, First Division, Fourteenth corps. It marched with Sherman to the sea and reached Savannah on the 16th of December . After the city surrendered, the Thirteenth marched with Sherman’s army through South and North Carolina, meeting the enemy at several points and fighting a pitched battle with General Johnson and Hardee’s forces in Bentonville, N. C., the 19th of March , where the regiment sustained heavy loss, the last battle of importance fought by Sherman’s army.
“After General Johnson’s surrender the Thirteenth marched to Richmond, Va., and thence to Washington, D. C, where it took part in the grand review.
“On the 9th of June  the regiment proceeded to Louisville, Ky., where it was mustered out of service July 25, and arrived in Jackson, Mich., July 17, 1865, where it was paid off and disbanded.”
Major battles 2nd great-grandpa James Bennett would have been engaged in were:
October 8, 1864: Florence, Alabama
December 17, 18, 20, 21 1864: Savannah, Georgia
February 28, 1865 Catawba River, South Carolina
March 16, 1865 Averysboro, North Carolina
March 19, 1865 Bentonville, N. Carolina
In the 1880 U.S. Census the family was living at St. Louis, Gratiot County, Michigan. This being the first census in which the birthplace of parents are required, James gives Vermont as the birthplace of his father, New York for his mother. Narcissa lists both her parents as born in Ohio. They now are a family of five sons all single: Alonzo (27), Joseph (24) who were born in Ohio & three, James (18), Edward (16) and Charles (8) born Michigan.
After James died in November 1881, Narcissa married John S. Waldron a year later. As the widow of James, Narcissa filed for his Civil War pension in September 1910, a year before she died. Then in October 1916 the right to receive his pension was contested by Elizabeth Emerson. I have no information about Elizabeth Emerson so who she was and how this was resolved remains a mystery.
Second Great-grandmother, Narcissa Kemp, born in 1835 in Richland, Vinton County, Ohio as the third child daughter of Jacob M. Kemp (1811-1881) & Harriet Hoy (1810-1891). Jacob first had a farm in Ohio, then Michigan, and mid-life owned a grocery. For information about these ancestors see the Kemp~Hoy Post.
In the late 1800’s several of our Loraff, Reischke, Schultz, Tollas ancestors emigrated from the Prussian Province of Pommern located on the southern border of the Baltic Sea to Berrien County, Michigan, USA. Pommern was within the Kingdom of Prussia, that later became part of the German Empire (1871-1918). After WWII the counties where our ancestors had lived, Bütow, Rummelsburg, and Schlawe were ceded to Poland. For a description of these see Information on Pommern/Polish Locations at the end of this article.
Martin Christian & Johanne Henrietta (Loraff) Schultz
They emigrated to the United States from Bremen, Germany on the SS Nurnberg arriving in Baltimore, Maryland on 17 April 1885. They had twelve children; three died young in Germany. When they emigrated they came with three of their nine children. The others evidently came either before or after because all died in the United States.
Great-Grandfather Martin was born 10 December 1831 at Peest, County Schlawe, Pommern. Great-Grandmother Johanna Henrietta was born 1 January 1840 at Viartlum, County Rummelsburg. After Martin and Henrietta married in 1859, they resided at Reinfeld, where all their children were born. Their daughter, Hulda Marie was my father’s mother; my grandmother.
Family anecdotes relate that Grandma Henrietta was an acquaintance of Johanna von Puttkamer who became the wife of the German Empire’s chancellor, Otto von Bismarck; her daughter Emma Louise (Schultz) Krause remembered Mrs. Bismark would arrive at their house in a Hansom carriage drawn by a white horse.
Martin was a mason and brick-maker by profession, and worked at a brick factory owned by the Bismark family; some say he was the factory manager and when one of the Bismark’s visited Martin would give them a tour. Martin was noted for constantly puffing on a long-stemmed pipe which reached almost to his waist. He had been quite seasick on the voyage over complaining it was Henrietta’s fault they were making the voyage.
Uncle Herb, my Dad’s brother, related that Henrietta kept a large portrait of Bismarck on her living room wall until it was confiscated during WWI. Uncle Herb also told me when a youngster, he opened the garage door at an uncle’s home and a large artificial horse almost fell on top of him.
This was one of the animals on the carousel his uncles August, Herman and Henry Schultz operated in the summer on a vacant lot in Benton Harbor. On the 4th of July they would move it to St. Joseph on the lot where the St. Joseph post office was eventually built.
Albert & Albertina “Tina” (Reischke) Tollas
They emigrated with their seven children in 1892 from their birthplace, Gross Tuchen, County Bütow, Pommern to St. Joseph, Berrien County, Michigan. This information about Gross Tuchen, County Bütow was collected by Bill Remus. One of the photos in this link shows a plaque donated by Loraff relatives who lived in Bridgman, Michigan. Great-Grandfather Albert died on September 1922, in Baroda, Michigan, at the age of 77; great-grandmother Tina died in October 1931, a year before my birth. Their son, William, was my paternal great-grandfather.
William & Hulda (Schultz) Tollas
Their son, Alfred Ewald Richard Tollas, is my Father. Grandpa William died before I was born; however, I have a clear mind-picture of Grandmother Hulda just after she died, dressed in black, laid-out on her bed at her home on 712 Kingsley Avenue, St. Joseph, Michigan. She was 65; I was 4-years-6-months.
Regarding one of my father’s middle names, Ewald: this was the surname of Hulda’s 2nd cousin, J. Friedrich Ewald, the son of her great-aunt Wilhelmina (Reischke) Ewald with whom they stayed briefly after they arrived in Michigan. His home on Jakway Avenue in Benton Harbor was a temporary way-station for her family as well as others after they arrived from the ‘old country’.
I am grateful beyond praise for Cindy Schroeder’s painstaking research into our common Pommern ancestors, with an extended thanks to Bill Remus for informing me of Cindy’s research. The following are my annotated version for: Lohraff Annotated Report; Reischke Annotated Report; Schulz Annotated Report. The information for my Tollas ancestors are located in all of the above.
What began as a business venture for two property developers three years ago quickly turned into a labor of love when they began to restore and make improvements to a 163-acre centennial estate passed down through three generations of one prominent St. Joseph family.
David Harris says that when he and his business partner, Don Litke, purchased the former Hoffman Estate on Dickinson Road in Royalton Township, initially it was because of the tranquil setting and the breath-taking view. The view includes a 90-foot drop from the hardwood and evergreen tree-lined cliffs circling the property, renamed River Trace Estates, to the St. Joseph River directly below.
However, Harris said the venture took on a whole new significance as they peeled away the dense thicket allowed to grow over several years to discourage vandals and other trespassers, to reveal the rich history behind their new acquisition.”It took a three-man crew, including my own father, the better part of that first summer to clear away the brush with chainsaws at first because it was such close work, and then with backhoes and other heavy equipment later on,” Harris noted.”What attracted me at first, besides the peace and quiet of the place, was the carpet of pine needles underfoot, and the fact that you couldn’t walk around the property without looking for deer trail and listening to the sounds of nature, like birds singing and the wind in the trees,” Harris said. He added that the majority of the people he’s brought out to look at the development have been drawn back “time and time again” to sit and enjoy its simple beauty.
Harris and Litke acquired half of what was once a much larger estate from Sally Hoffman and her husband, Edward Hoffman, whose grandfather, William Dickinson, purchased the property sometime . around the late 1880s.
Dickinson, co-founder of the Marquette Cement Company in Chicago along with his brother, Theodore, and another partner during the mid 1880s, lived in Illinois and built the Dickinson Estate on the St. Joseph River estate as a summer retreat. Theodore Dickinson, for whom St. Joseph High School’s football stadium was named, maintained a sizeable farm on the site where the high school is currently located.
Executive offices for the Marquette Cement Company were located in Chicago before the business was moved to Nashville and then sold, according to Lyle Witte. Witte, who with his wife, Caroline Hoffman Witte, Hoffman’s sister, retains ownership of the remaining half of the original estate where Mrs. Witte owned and operated a riding school for many years.
The estate was divided between brother and sister some 15 years ago. Witte owns and operates an interior design business on the corner of Marquette Woods Road and U.S. 31, about a quarter-mile from Dickinson Road.
All that remains of some previous houses on the estate are an iron entrance gate with its period mail drop set into cement columns, an adjoining stone and cement wall surrounding the site where a house once stood, an overgrown garden containing two Georgian-style tea houses built out of Indiana limestone and cement, and a massive cement retaining wall, crumbling in places, built to protect the bluff from erosion and to provide a garden enclosure. A weathered cement water tower, used for irrigation purposes, also remains.
Harris said as much as possible of what is still standing on the property will be retained as a common area to help establish the turn-of-the century theme for the 39-lot planned urban development. The one-acre lots are priced from $45,000 to $115,000 each, depending on their proximity to the river, Harris said.
He added that it’s been his and Litke’s intent from the beginning to deed several hundred acres of bottom land on the river to a nature conservancy, although the details would remain up to the homeowners’ association to iron out.
“Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousands of miles and all the years you have lived.” -Helen Keller
Whenever I get a whiff of boxwood, daffodils, curry spices, or geraniums I find myself transported back to my childhood home in Michigan. These odors, individually or separately, recall the boxwood hedge surrounding the manor house at Hadleigh Hill Farm in Royalton Township, Berrien County. One field was carpeted with yellow daffodils in spring; its kitchen contained pantry shelves filled with exotic spices; the woodsy odor of geraniums transport me to the four-room cottage where I lived with my parents and brothers Frank, Bob, Calvin, Phil and for a few months in 1944, Chuck.
My Mom and Dad, Alfred & Lena (Barker) Tollas, married 23 May 1931 during the height of the Great Depression; he was 27, she 23. The ceremony was performed by Rev. F. C. Schmidt at the Zion Evangelical Church in St. Joseph, Berrien County, Michigan. Their witnesses were Mom’s brother Oscar Barker and his wife Dorothy. Their marriage license state that Dad’s occupation was landscaping and Mom’s was factory work. They were hyphenated Americans, Dad first-generation Pommern-Prussian; Mom, third generation Irish.
They both had attended high school and Dad earned a degree in architectural drafting from the Chicago Technical College. (‘Diploma’ was the first word I learned to spell due to frequently staring at his graduation certificate on the wall next to the day-bed where I slept in our combined dinning-living room.) However, he never worked at his chosen profession; the Wall Street Crash of 1929 resulted in few requests for construction blueprints during the dim, dark, work-less years of the depression. Instead, he located a position as the gardener and general handyman on William Woodbridge Dickenson’s Hadleigh Hill Farm estate.
WW (as Mom referred to Dickenson) made his fortune as co-founder of the Marquette Cement Factory in Chicago, Illinois just across Lake Michigan from his estate in Michigan. There his imposing manor was situated on the St. Joseph River that ran between the twin cities of Benton Harbor/St. Joseph in Berrien County.
In addition to the manor, there were stables for horses, milking sheds for cows, a carpentry shop, and a hay barn that housed chicken coops. These buildings formed a U-shaped compound where, at the left front end, was a small dwelling in which lived Mrs. Hayhurst, WW’s housekeeper, and her son Johnny.
At the back of the manor-house a lawn slopped down to the river. On one side was an enclosed English flower garden with a greenhouse that was heated in the winter, and on the other a fenced-in tennis court. The front yard was hedged by boxwood bushes kept well-trimmed by Dad. He also maintained the estate’s vegetable garden, flower garden and greenhouse, fed and milked the cows and tended the horses.
With the help of Albert, the day-worker, Dad harrowed the fields with a horse-drawn plough, then planted field-corn and hay to feed the animals in winter. They shoveled out the manure from the barns to add to a compost heap used to fertilize the fields. They pruned the apple, pear, peach orchards; sprayed them with sulfur to prevent insect damage; then harvested their fruit in the fall. In his spare time, Dad repaired farm equipment and did carpentry work. In exchange for his labor, Dickenson provided Dad with a two-bedroom cottage and garden plot to house and feed his expanding family. Although I suspect Dad’s wages were slight, he managed to save enough to buy a Ford.
The cottage had no central heating, indoor toilet or running water. On the kitchen counter a water pump located over the sink had to be primed before water could be pulled from a cistern that gathered its contents from both heaven and earth. There was a Stanley Range cooker for cooking, baking and heating water that filled a large, round tin tub on Friday night for my brothers and my weekly bath; being the only female, I was first to get plunked into the freshly heated water. There was also a storage pantry off the kitchen and it was in this pantry I exhibited my first act of culinary preference and independence.
Except for being an excellent baker of bread, cakes and pies Mom wasn’t a good cook. One morning, I refused to eat yet another bowl of scorched porridge. After about ten minutes trying to coax me to eat, she put me and the bowl of porridge into the pantry, closed the door saying, “When you finish your breakfast, you can come out.” I stayed there hours until she finally relented and released me; the porridge uneaten.
Just before the double Dutch doors between the kitchen and dining/living room another door opened unto a stairway that led down to the basement where there was a coal storage bin sectioned off underneath a small window. In the fall, the coal man would insert a tin ramp from his truck down which thundered our winter supply of coal. The basement had shelves along two sides to hold the canned fruits and vegetables that my mother preserved from our garden and the farm’s orchards to take us through the long, cold, snowy winters. There were also bins for storing potatoes and other root vegetables.
The cottage window sills were always filled with pots of geraniums my father brought home from the greenhouse. I was given the task of keeping them watered and pruned of dead leaves. Sometimes in haste I broke off a still green leaf and its smell reminded me of newly plowed earth. Their blossoms were various shades of red and pink and when the plants died my father would bring home more.
A small entry room off the kitchen, where we removed our boots and hung our coats, led to the back yard. At the left of the house was our vegetable garden; beyond that an apple orchard. Once a tornado took out nearly a row of these trees, luckily missing our cottage. Our back yard had a storage shed that contained a chicken coop whose hens provided eggs and an occasional roast chicken dinner. There was also a pigsty whose pigs were slaughtered in the spring to provide us ham, sausage, head cheese and souse. Our milk came from the estates’ herd of cows and we churned our own butter. In summer, an icebox holding a block of ice kept perishables fresh; in the cold winter-months this was not needed.
An outdoor toilet off the back-yard provided we youngsters one memorable occasion of adult folly: Mom and Dad hosted a New Year’s Eve party attended by aunts and uncles who were seeing in the New Year and sending off to WWII, William and Victor Barker, my mother’s brothers. This was the only memory I have of alcohol ever being served in our house, perhaps due to the story told about Dad’s overindulgence that night which caused him to lose his dental plates down one of the toilet holes where he emptied the contents of his sick stomach the next morning.
The back yard also contained clothes lines that stretched between the cottage and the shed. In winter, our freshly washed laundry hung in stiff frozen lines until the faint sun thawed and eventually dried it which often took several days to accomplish.
The dirt road to our cottage from Dickenson Lane off the Niles Road that ended at St Joseph/Benton Harbor, was separated from our front yard by a hedge of spiraea which bloomed white in spring. In the middle of the yard was a tall elm tree on which hung a rope and board swing. The ground underneath the swing had a small indentation of bare earth attesting to its frequent use.
When I was born October 7, 1932, Mom & Dad were living on Nickerson Avenue in Benton Harbor and shortly afterward we moved to Hadleigh Hill. I was the eldest of what would become seven and one of my earliest memories was of cold Michigan winters spent sledding down a hill that ended at a large field which in spring became a carpet of yellow daffodils. The first time I read these lines: ‘I wander’d lonely as a cloud / That floats on high o’er vales and hills, / When all at once I saw a crowd, / A host, of golden daffodils / . . . .Ten thousand saw I at a glance, / Tossing their heads in sprightly dance’, from William Wordsworth’s poem The Daffodils, I immediately focused on my golden field where the sight of thousands of golden trumpets in bloom heralded the end of winter. Every year when I spot my first daffodil I bend down, close my eyes and inhale deeply of its scent to mark the beginning of another spring.
This daffodil field was met at its furthest edge by a small forest that contained a ravine which led to a sandy beach on the St. Joseph River where Dad frequently fished for bass and trout. This was also where my brothers and I learned to swim. In the forest grew wild grape vines which, Tarzan-like, we would grab onto and swing in an arc along the edge of the ravine.
In March 1934, I was christened at the Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church on Napier Avenue, St. Joseph by Rev. F. C. Schmidt.
Years later, I had my comeuppance at this same church when about eight or nine. That morning I and my brothers attended Sunday School in the basement of the church while our parents were at that morning’s sermon upstairs. Our session ended and while waiting for our patents fetch us, I circled my arms around a post in the center of the room and began swinging around it faster and faster. Just as our teacher tried to stop me, I lost my grip and slammed onto the floor. When I fell my teeth clamped down on my tongue causing a gash which began to bleed profusely. I was rushed to the local hospital emergency room where the gash was sutured; however, afterward my tongue began to swell preventing me fully closing my mouth or chewing food. I was put on a liquid diet of juice and eggnog until my tongue healed. This was doubly aggravating occurring as it did just before our annual Thanksgiving dinner; instead of eating turkey dinner with all its trimmings, I was appeased with numerous helpings of chocolate pudding and ice cream.
Every noon, Dad came home for lunch. Just before he arrived Mom would send Frank, Bob, Calvin and me into the dining/living room, latching the bottom Dutch door between it and the kitchen to keep us out of her way. With the top door open, she could keep an eye on us while she prepared lunch. One day, when he came home, Dad opened the bottom door but didn’t immediately latch it shut. Calvin, who was nearly two, toddled after him and before he could be stopped, tugged on the electric cord attached to the coffee pot and its contents poured over him.
I had just turned six, and although this was a most traumatic event for a six-year-old to witness, my only memory of that day is of my mother holding Calvin on her lap wrapped in a white sheet while she rocked him back and forth in the wooden rocking chair. Calvin died the next day. After his funeral at the Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, Calvin was buried in the family plot at Riverview Cemetery in St. Joseph.
I, and when they were old enough, Frank and Bob, attended Royalton Elementary School, a two-room building located one-and-one-half miles to which we walked every day from our cottage no matter what the weather. I started Kindergarten just after I turned five in October 1937. Mrs Bussie was my teacher. One room was used as a classroom, the second served as a recreation room in winter when play outdoors was prohibited by snow several feet deep and nose-pinching cold. With the exception of the one year my cousin Beverly Krause lived in the area and joined me, I was the only person in my class for the six-years I attended, so I was both the best and worst student in my grade. What made this all-grade classroom unique was if I failed to learn a concept one year, it was made available to me when the teacher was explaining it to those in the year behind me.
One summer afternoon, after I learned to write the alphabet, my mother made me take a nap on her and Dad’s bed. I wasn’t tired, so to pass the time until she let me out, I took a safety-pin and diligently and proudly scratched the entire alphabet, in capital letters, across the solid walnut headboard. Mom was not pleased with evidence of my newly acquired skill.
Our school was a sturdy brick building that years later I learned WW, in a spirit of noblesse obliges, had had built to educate young people in the area. The main classroom had tall windows lining one side, a cloakroom the other. On the sill of one window was a pencil sharpener where I often stood sharpening pencils while gazing out the window daydreaming. A door at the far end of the room led to an anti-room that contained a furnace. At the back of the classroom, a door led to a hall with toilets on each end, one for boys and one for girls that contained the first flush toilets I’d ever seen.
One day when I was having difficulty learning to spell ‘February’, Mrs. Martin made me sit alone in the furnace room until I memorized it. About five minutes later I became bored so opened the back door, left, and walked home. Later that day, Mrs. Martin drove to our house looking for me which proved to be quite embarrassing because the incident was repeatedly told by Mom to numerous relatives while I stood squirming at the revelation of my inability to spell.
When I was eight, I was hired to work in the manor house kitchen; taught how to scour stainless-steel sinks using Bon Ami powder with a damp cloth then polished spotless with a soft towel. The kitchen smelled of a strange spice which, the first time I ate at an Indian restaurant in Washington, D.C. some thirty-years later, I realized were curry spices. I earned five cents an hour learning to make the sinks sparkle and I suspect initial training to eventually replace Mrs. Hayhurst when she retired.
This was the idyllic setting of my childhood. I looked upon the grounds, forest, river, tennis court, greenhouse, sledding hills, fields and animals as mine. My brothers and I never questioned our right to explore and enjoy this private playground. And, to my delight, there were always books to read which I would do endlessly into the night until it was too dark to see words on the page. I never gave second thought to whether we were rich or poor, there was always enough food to eat and adequate clothing to wear. However, my innocence about our financial and class status was to end with the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese on December 7, 1942.
We heard the news of the bombing while at Grandma Tollas’ home in St. Joseph celebrating my brother Bob’s sixth birthday. When I awoke the following morning, I felt a deep, unnamed fear grow in the pit of my stomach as I watched Mom and Dad huddled next to the radio listening to the news. The volume was so low I couldn’t make out what was being said but felt something terrible had happened to threaten my safe, secure world.
Shortly after my youngest brother, Chuck, was born in January 1944, the Tollas family home in St. Joseph was sold. When my father received his share, he showed us the four crisp $100 bills he’d received and I knew we were now wealthy! However, I soon learned the truth when in the spring of that year we were forced to pack our personal belongings and move from the estate. With the country at war, every able-bodied male was called upon to either join the military or work in an industry that aided the war effort. My father’s age and large family made him ineligible for the military and his work on the estate didn’t offer deferment, so he eventually obtained employment as night watchman at the Industrial Rubber Company in Benton Harbor. Because Dad could no longer attend to his duties at the estate, we were forced to vacate our home at Hadleigh Hill Farm.
We moved into a barn a few mines away that had recently housed animals. My father bought this place using his small inheritance as a down-payment. The farm had ten acres, mostly clay, rendering it useless to grow crops but then we had no equipment to farm with and no money to purchase what was needed. The barn consisted of one room that was two stories high sited beside a creek that frequently flooded preventing us from reaching the main road that led into the small town of Eau Claire a mile away. On the other side of the creek a natural spring provided drinking water we carried in buckets to the house
We moved with little more than our clothes, kitchen-ware and bedding to sleep on. The furniture in our former cottage belonged to WW and it took quite some time to buy replacements. Our new home had recently housed animals from the adjacent farm and smelled of manure combined with the peculiar odor of bedbugs that were its long-term residents. Their blood-filled bodies had a smell that haunted me for years.
Endnote: Although she never lived there, my sister Carol (Tollas) Knapp, a correspondent for the St. Joseph/Benton-Harbor Harold-Palladium, wrote an article in the 1900s about the demise of Hadleigh Hill Farm. She reported that several years earlier, the manor house had burnt to the ground and untended the land returned to its former wild state of hardwood and pine tree forests, overgrown brush and wild grass. However, she related that the estate had recently been bought by two developers and renamed River Trace Estates. The site was being turned into a luxury urban development of 39 one-acre lots priced from $45,000 to $115,000 each.