“Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death”

When we look at the factors that caused our ancestors to migrate from one place to another, specifically within the United States, do we consider the effect that climate disasters may have had? Most of us are familiar with the Dust Bowl, which forced thousands of families in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, to abandon their farms, devastated by crop losses and unable to pay their mortgages and migrate westwards towards California.

For hundreds of years America was largely an agricultural society, dependent on the weather for providing good conditions for crop growth. Many of our farming ancestors lived or died by the harvest their lands produced. Climate disasters, and their accompanying economic losses, were catastrophic to families, and to communities.

In 1847, a 76-year old farmer by the name of Reuben Whitten died in Holderness, Grafton County, New Hampshire.1 Back in the summer of 1816, Reuben had harvested a good wheat crop which he had shared with his family and neighbors. Why was that act important? By sharing his wheat crop, Reuben saved his family and neighbors from starving at a time when all their crops had failed, and many of their sheep had frozen to death, in the summer. In fact, Reuben’s neighbors were so thankful to him, that family members later erected a stone commemorating his selfless act.

Weather grave “1771 Ruben Whitten 1847
Son of a Revolutionary Soldier
A Pioneer of this Town. Cold season of
1816 Raised 40 Bushils of Wheat on this
Land whitch Kept his Family and
Neighbours from Starveation.”

How was it that crops failed and animals froze in what should have been the warm and sunny summer of 1816 in New England? What was the ‘cold season of 1816’ to which the words carved onto the headstone referred? Known also as the “year without a summer” or “eighteen hundred and froze to death”, 1816 was a year that few who lived in the New England region would soon forget.

No-one could have expected that the mild start to April 1816 would foreshadow a period of frigid temperatures, severe frosts and heavy snows. Summer would not come that year to New England. In Salem, Massachusetts, April 24 started off with a mild 74°F, dropping to 21°F within 30 hours. By May 1816, several cold spells had delayed planting and farmers began to fear that they would not have crops to sell or food to feed their families. The corn crop in Maine had frozen and strong winds and freezing temperatures from Canada killed the buds on the fruit trees. Warm days would bring hope to the farmers and a hasty planting of their crops, that hope only to be dashed a few days later when severe frosts would again occur. This cyclic change in temperatures would continue through September 1816, eventually bringing serious drought to the area and to much of the United States.

Weather chart

Newspapers across the region carried articles on the strange weather and the devastating crop losses. On 12 June, 1816, the Hallowell Gazette of Maine reported that there had been few days without which a fire was needed to keep warm, and that the “cold was so severe that vegetation seems to have been suspended.” 2

Weather 1

From New Hampshire, the Intelligencer of 6 September 1816, reported on various places hit by the unseasonably frigid weather and the damage to the corn crops. Ending the article with, “It is probable the year 1816 will have this remarkable designation, that there has been a frost in every month of it.” 3

Weather 2

The extreme weather and resultant loss of crops forced farmers to leave the New England region. Many moved to western New York and into the Northwest Territory (covering the present states of Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and northwestern Minnesota). Their migration played a part in speeding up westward expansion in the United States and shaped what became known as the American Heartland. The movement of these farming families into what is now Indiana and Illinois helped found those states. 4

Consider again Reuben Whitten sharing his wheat crop with his neighbors in 1816.  It takes on much greater significance when we understand the context surrounding his act. He very likely saved some in his community from starvation.

If your family moved from New England around 1816-1818, it is entirely possible the ‘year without a summer’ may have been the cause.  Some 15 000 people left Vermont after the summer of 1816 for places west.

Climate disasters were devastating for our farming ancestors and their communities and may be the very reason they moved, searching for better conditions in which to grow their crops and support their families.

 

 


  1. Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 9 October 2018), memorial page for Reuben Whitten (1771-1847), Find A Grave Memorial no. 19525630, citing Reuben Whitten cemetery, Grafton county, New Hampshire; Maintained by B.L. Hughes (contributor). 
  2. “Extraordinary Weather,” Hallowell Gazette, Maine, 12 June 1816, page 3, col. 1; online archives, GenealogyBank (https://www.genealogybank.com : accessed 9 October 2018). 
  3. “The Season,” The Intelligencer, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, 5 September 1816, page 2, col. 3; online archives, GenealogyBank (https://www.genealogybank.com : accessed 9 October 2018). 
  4. Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org), “Year Without a Summer,” rev. 17:18, 27 August 2018. 

Using Newspapers to Uncover an Emigrant’s Journey

Newspapers are incredibly valuable for genealogical research. They help put the flesh on the bones of our ancestors. Through newspapers we gain a little insight into the times in which our ancestors lived. Newspapers can also help find the story of your emigrant ancestors. Many are full of information on ship arrivals and departures, what life was like on board the ship, tragedies at sea and messages back to their homelands from those who left.

Illustration 1 1

Migration Ship
“On Board an Emigrant Ship”

From the advertisements seeking those willing to leave their home for a foreign land, to the letters sent back to those homes from those emigrants, newspapers can add great context to your emigrant ancestors’ journey.

Advertisements for free emigration

Newspapers were full of advertisements offering free or assisted emigration to countries like Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and South Africa. High in demand were those skilled in a trade such as blacksmiths, carpenters, bakers, and bricklayers. Women were also in demand as housemaids, nurses and dairy maids. 2

Migration free
“Free Emigration to Queensland.” Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

 

Life Aboard Ship

Newspapers often contained reports on life aboard ship. Most described the awful conditions, the disease and deaths, the lack of food and water and the ill-treatment of the emigrants by the crew. Yet, emigrant’s kept making the journey, hoping that life in a foreign country would be better than where they were previously.  These articles describe the deplorable conditions on many ships, but they also contain clues for further research. The article below contains the ship name, the port it arrived in and the date it arrived, where it departed from, the number of days at sea and the number of passengers aboard when it left Liverpool. It also gives the number of passengers who died on the voyage and the number of babies born. 3

Migration sick
“Emigrant Life on Board Ship.” Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Ships lost at sea or plagued by disease

Traveling by sea was often perilous. Ships sometimes caught on fire and sank,  some were damaged by storms, others ran aground on reefs or sand bars. Newspapers carried the stories of survivors, if there were any, or simply reported that the ship was considered late to its port and therefore ‘lost’.

The loss of 20 lives aboard the English emigrant ship, the Trusty, was reported by the Norfolk News (England) on 14 August 1852.4 The ship had left Scarborough, in North England, with 200 emigrants on board. Their final destination was Quebec. The ship had sighted land when a dense fog occurred and the ship struck a reef and began to sink. A boat was lowered and 20 persons climbed aboard and tried to get to shore. Sadly, the boat capsized in rough surf and all drowned. Their names appear in the newspaper article. The remaining emigrants clung to the sinking wreck for over 8 hours until another vessel was able to pull alongside and rescue them.

Migration wreck
“Melancholy Wreck of an Emigrant Ship” Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

The emigrants aboard the ship, Hartha, left Hamburg, Germany in October 1865, bound for New York. Three months later, in January 1866, the Buckingham Advertiser and Free Press noted the arrival of the ship at Spithead, on the southern English coast. The journey from Hamburg to New York should have taken about a month, instead the emigrants had now been on board the ship for two and half months, arriving on the coast of England instead of New York. Their journey had been fraught with problems from a leak which caused the ship to head for the coast of Scotland for repair, to the discovery of small pox among the passengers. On 20 December 1865, sixteen passengers suffering from small pox were left behind in Scotland while the ship sailed on. In the English Channel, a ferocious storm with gale force winds, forced the ship back to Spithead again. Once more, small pox broke out, this time affecting many more of the emigrants. The Captain was forced to move all the sick off the ship and have it fumigated. Many of the children aboard also suffered from diphtheria.  The newspaper noted, “The misfortunes this ship has encountered have dispirited the intended emigrants, as might naturally be supposed.” 5

Migration sick1
“Remarkable Voyage of an Emigrant Ship” Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

These are the stories that add color to our ancestors’ lives and make them more than just names and dates on a piece of paper. Whether mentioned by name or not, reading these accounts allows us to understand more fully what our ancestors went through in their journey to their new home.

Letters sent back home

Once our ancestors reached their new home, they would send letters back to family left behind. Letters would often be sent to the vicar of the local parish where the emigrants had once resided, and the vicar would request that the newspaper publish the letter so all in the parish could hear how the family was doing.

William and Mary Anne Randle wrote the following letter to their children in Coventry, England, from Quebec, Canada, in 1862.6 The letter is filled with information on their journey to Quebec and their new life there. If William and Mary Anne Randle were your ancestor’s, how fortunate you would be to find all this information! However, if your emigrant ancestor’s followed the same route as the Randle’s, you now have an idea of what that journey entailed and what life was like for new emigrants.

Migration-letters-all
Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Newspapers are wonderful for filling in the details of the journey our emigrant ancestors’ took to get to their new homelands. From the advertisements ‘selling’ the idea of emigrating, to the letters sent back home, we can add context and color to their lives.

All images are from the British Newspapers Archive and used under their terms of conditions which state that the image appear with a copyright statement and attribution to British Newspaper Archive.

 


  1. Illustration 1 “On Board an Emigrant Ship,” Every Saturday: An Illustrated Weekly Journal, Vol. III, 30 December 1871, p. 628; Hathitrust (https://babel.hathitrust.org : accessed 26 September 2018). 
  2. “Free Emigration to Queensland,”The Cornish Telegraph (Penzance, Cornwall), 28 March 1876, Vol. XXV, No. 1318, p. 2, col. 3; British Newspaper Archive (https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk : accessed 27 September 2018). 
  3. “Emigrant Life On Board Ship,” Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 28 April 1847, Vol. XXIII, No. 1238, p. 270, col. 1;  British Newspaper Archive (https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk : accessed 27 September 2018). 
  4. “Melancholy Wreck of an Emigrant Ship,” Norfolk News, 14 August 1852, No. 398, p. 4, col. 4; British Newspaper Archive (https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk : accessed 27 September 2018). 
  5. “Remarkable Voyage of an Emigrant Ship,” Buckingham Advertiser and Free Press, 27 January 1866, p. 3, col. 4; British Newspaper Archive (https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk : accessed 27 September 2018). 
  6. “Letters from Emigrants,” Coventry Herald and Observer, 5 July 1862, p. 3, col. 4 & 5; British Newspaper Archive (https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk : accessed 28 September 2018). 

‘Where there’s a (contested) will …Thomas Lantry of St. Lawrence Co., New York

ThomasLantry3

Well known as one of the first settlers in Massena, St. Lawrence county, New York, Thomas Lantry died at the age of 98 in August 1887. 1 He left an estate of some $35 000.00, equivalent to approximately $890 000.00 today.

ThomasLantry1
The Ogdensburg Advance and St. Lawrence Weekly Democrat, October 13, 1887.

For the thirty years previous to Thomas’ death, he had been living with his son, Joshua Lantry and family. Thomas’ wife, Jane, died before 1880 and the rest of their children, all married, lived in their own homes. In 1872, at age 78, Thomas Lantry asked his nephew, Barnaby Lantry, to help draw up his will. Thomas Lantry left $500 dollars to each of his children and the bulk of the estate went to third oldest son, Joshua Lantry.

In May 1887, Joshua Lantry died suddenly of heart disease. 2 This meant his widow, Catherine and their children, would now inherit what Thomas Lantry had originally left to Joshua. Immediately, the other children of Thomas Lantry began to contest the will. They contended that the will was not properly executed, was not signed in the presence of the witnesses and declared the signature on the will to not be that of their father, Thomas. They also argued that the will was not properly published and that their father did not actually declare this his last will and testament. The contention to the will garnered a lot of attention from the county where almost all knew Thomas Lantry.

ThomasLantry2
The Sun, Fort Covington, New York, April 5, 1888.

Several newspaper articles were written, most favoring Joshua Lantry’s widow as the legal heir. Their sympathies lay with the family who had taken care of Thomas Lantry and his wife for over thirty years. Several hearings were held and the case finally argued in Norwood, St. Lawrence county in April 1888. The judge declared that the will was a valid document and that the principal property would go to the widow and heirs of Joshua Lantry.

Thomas Lantry was a well-respected and prominent citizen of St. Lawrence county, New York. Previously a shoemaker in Ireland, he had left there in his early 30s with his wife and two small sons. He arrived in St. Lawrence county around 1823. He managed to buy land in Massena and farmed there all his life. He became a wealthy man through hard work and determination. The Lantry family was well-regarded by all who knew them. It is hard to imagine that Thomas would have been happy with the contention surrounding his will.

This post was written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge from Amy Johnson Crow. Week 9 prompt: Where there’s a will …

 

 


  1. “Death of Thos. Lantry,” The Ogdensburg Advance and St. Lawrence Weekly Democrat, St. Lawrence, New York, 13 October 1887, p. 5, col. 5. 
  2. No heading, The Ogdensburg Advance and St. Lawrence Weekly Democrat, St. Lawrence, New York, 26 May 1887, p. 1, col. 6., Vol. XXII, No. 21. 

Using Family Stories in Our Research

Prison

Family stories, lore, myths or legends. It doesn’t matter what you call them. Every family has one, or many.  Don’t we all want to know if they are true or not? Use a family story as a beginning point in your research and locate additional records to determine just how true (or false!) it may be.

A family story, passed down through the years, paints Lyman Perry Fuller in a good light, as a hero, trying to save his sister’s cattle from thieves.  There was a gunfight and a bystander was shot.  Lyman Perry Fuller was convicted of the crime and sentenced to 18 years in prison.  That’s how the story goes but is it really what happened?  Eighteen years in prison seems a particularly harsh sentence if Lyman were simply defending the cattle from being stolen.  Could there be more to this story?  There usually is.  Using the family story as a starting point, can we determine whether the events leading up to Lyman’s incarceration are a tall tale or whether they may have a kernel of truth in them?

Through further research there appears to be 3 versions of the events that led up to Lyman Perry Fuller’s imprisonment:

Version 1:  The Family Story

In 1870 Lyman Perry Fuller’s sister, Lisania Fuller Judd and her husband Hyrum Judd, were living in Eagle Valley, Nevada where they had established a dairy business.  Lyman travelled to Eagle Valley around 1872 to visit his sister and stopped at a bar in town to ask directions to the ranch. He overheard men talking about stealing cattle from the Mormons (Lisania and Hyrum Judd were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and had been sent to settle the area of Eagle Valley).  When Lyman got to Lisania’s home he repeated what he had heard, and the sheriff was notified. Upon returning to town, Lyman was met by the cattle thieves and a gun fight ensued.  A spectator was killed and Lyman was arrested. He spent the next 18 years in the Nevada State Prison accused of murder in the second degree.[1]

Version 2:  The Newspaper accounts

In 1872, just a few weeks after the crime, the Ely Record[2] wrote a short article stating that Lyman P. Fuller was indicted for murder ‘of a woman of the town’.   No mention is made of cattle thieves just the intriguing reference to a woman being the one murdered.

On October 24, 1872, the New Daily Appeal of Carson City had the following article[3].

LymanPFuller1832_15yearsentence

The woman was named as Fanny Peterson.  Lyman pled guilty to the crime and was sentenced to 15 years in the State Prison. It would appear that there was more to the story than cattle thieves, at least in what was reported by the newspapers of the day.

In early 1881 Lyman Perry Fuller had served almost 10 years in prison.  He began to seek a full pardon based on the grounds that he had served almost two-thirds of his sentence and had shown exemplary conduct during imprisonment.  Lyman also noted that there were extenuating circumstances connected with the case, that his attorney had not done a good job and that his health was poor[4].

nevada-state-prison-carson-city

Nevada State Prison, Carson City, Nevada. Photo in public domain.

 

Newspapers carried the story on 26 February 1881 and were not favorable towards Lyman Fuller.  They called the murder ‘a cruel and wanton act’ and gave an account of the crime as follows:

“Fuller had been living with a Spanish courtesan knows as ‘Panama Jack’, alias Fannie Paterson, and several months previous to the killing they had quarreled and separated.  At 9 o’clock on the morning of July 11, 1872, Fuller issued from his lodging-house, having seen the woman passing to her residence and, without warning, fired upon her, the ball taking effect in the right forearm, badly shattering the radius. The woman attempted to run, but fell, whereupon he deliberately walked to where she was lying, and standing almost over her prostrate form, fired two more shots at her, one of which took effect in the left hip and passed through the ilium into the abdominal cavity.  The other shot passed through her clothing without harming her. … The woman died from the effects of her wounds four days after the shooting.  Fuller, sometime previous to the murder, set fire to and attempted to burn the building occupied by this woman.  Perry Fuller, in Pioche, was one of the lowest characters of men, gaining a livelihood by following the profession of what is called a “check guerilla’, and compelling this poor, fallen wretch of a woman to give him what little money she could gather, beating and abusing her if she refused to obey him.” [5]

Again, no mention of the cattle thieves as described in the family story.  The newspaper article further stated that Mr. Fuller did not deserve to be pardoned and that he should have hung for his crime instead of being imprisoned.  His pardon was denied.

Two years later, in July 1883, Lyman Fuller again appealed to the Board of Pardons and this time his parole was approved.

Version 3:  Lyman Perry Fuller’s own words

In a statement given in 1881 Lyman Fuller describes in his own words what happened:

“On the 25th of Nov 1875 I arrived in Pioche.  One of the first men I met was Jack Harris, and during our conversation informed him of the intention to proceed to Eagle Valley the following day to visit a sister I had not seen for twenty years. Harris said he would introduce me to a friend of his, a butcher, who went to Eagle Valley every day with his wagon, and I could ride out with him, that the butcher went there to see one of the boys.  I asked him what he meant by ‘one of the boys’ and he replied that he meant of the Spanish George’s pale. Harris gave me the name of the man as Woods, with the information he (Woods) was acting as agent for George and his gang; that Woods disposed of stolen cattle to the Pioche butchers, and that George and Woods were the leaders of the d_____dest gang of cattle thieves ever known on the coast; that they were furnishing all the butchers in Pioche with stolen cattle at a very low figure.

I had not been two hours in my sisters company before she informed me they (her and her husband) had settled in Eagle Valley six years previous with a number of head of stock but since the mining excitement broke out at Pioche they had lost all their stock.  I asked my sister if there was a man named Woods living in the valley, and she told me he was their nearest neighbor. I there and then informed her that Woods and his gang were stealing their cattle, etc. My brother-in-law immediately took steps to ascertain the truth of my statements and in so doing told some neighbors what he had learned from me.  Woods hearing of the investigation being made left the country. On the next visit paid my sister, I turned a fine horse into the pasture and he was stolen the first night.  A few nights after one of George’s gang, a Mexican, rode up to a house I was visiting on a horse resembling the one I lost and I detained him over night, when daylight came I seen my mistake and allowed him to leave.  This of course made George my bitter and active enemy and then my troubles commenced, for George was not alone in persecuting me for doing my duty, but was aided by several men and one woman doing business in Pioche.  The house of the Negro woman, Lize Lawson was the rendezvous of the worst gang of thieves in the country’ she was running two butcher-shops in the town and doubtless interested in others elsewhere; there the plot was concocted to put me out of the way in some manner the least liable to excite public suspicion, and if matters had not taken a turn to afford them the opportunity to prosecute me under the cloak of the law I would have met death in some form at their hands, for at this time I was privately visiting a Spanish woman and the game was theirs whenever wanted. I left the woman and then George and Lize influenced her to circulate the story that I had threatened to burn the town, Lize, of course, being most industrious to its circulation. Some of the gang went so far as to place sharings saturated in oil under   several houses and claiming that I did it, creating such a feeling that my life was in danger. Had it not been for a night-watchman named Hickey, who came to me one night and (after stating he had been watching my actions for sometime and became convinced of the falseness of the stories) warned me to be on my guard, that these women for some reason unknown to him wanted me killed and if I was not very careful they would accomplish their object, I would have fallen a victim to their revenge. Hickey gave me the names of several men who were laying for me, but they have escaped my memory; one of them killed John Monahan in Pioche.

A moderate drinker for twenty years previous to this time, the traps laid to prejudice the community and compass my assassination, conscious of never committing any crime against person or property, so harassed and preyed upon my mind that I foolishly sought relief where it got the better of me and my mind gave completely away under the pressure of worriment and drink.  No thought ever entered my mind to injure any one of enemies, for I concluded everyone would, sooner or later, become satisfied that I was the victim and not the criminal, if I was not killed. My intellect at last gave way under the constant pressure and the taking of human life the result, an act I deeply deplore and have suffered for mentally and physically for the last eight and a half years”.[6]

Lyman Perry Fuller’s version of events includes the cattle thieves and his attempt to do a good deed in stopping them.  Here lie the seeds for the origin of the family story.  The truth of what really happened that day is unclear.  Lyman Perry Fuller never denies that he did take a human life but attributes it to a mental breakdown. The events leading up to the crime differ depending on whether you believe the family story, the newspaper accounts or Lyman’s own words.

These stories are part of our family history, they aren’t always true but many times may contain a kernel of truth.   Use a family story as a beginning point in your research.  Find other information to corroborate or disprove it, but never ignore it. Research will help determine which family stories are true, somewhat true or completely false.  Whatever the outcome they give our factual research great color.

[1] Judd Family Traditions. Hilga Judd Frier, compiler. Pleasant Grove, Utah.
[2] “Criminal Matters”, The Ely Record, Pioche City, Lincoln, Nevada, 6 Sep 1872; digital images, Genealogybank.com (www.genealogybank.com : accessed Feb 2017).
[3] “Prisoners and Insane”, The New Daily Appeal, Carson City, Nevada, 24 Oct 1872, digital images, Genealogybank.com (www.genealogybank.com : accessed Feb 2017).
[4] Nevada State Prison, Carson City, Nevada, Inmate file for Lyman Perry Fuller, Nevada State Archives; photocopy, (http://nsla.nv.gov/Archives/Archival_Records/).
[5] “Local Intelligence”, Pioche Weekly Record, Pioche, Nevada, 26 Feb 1881, digital images,  Chroniclingamerica.loc.gov (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/ : accessed Feb 2017).
[6] Nevada State Prison, Carson City, Nevada, Inmate file for Lyman Perry Fuller, Nevada State Archives; photocopy, (http://nsla.nv.gov/Archives/Archival_Records/).

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