In the second half of the 19th Century, at the height of the Victorian Age, the union of photography and the supernatural spawned strange and enthralling results.
By Beverly Wilgus and Ann Longmore-Etheridge
Early in the practice of the photography, ghostlike images appeared on daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes. The explanation for them was not supernatural: Because of the need for long exposures, in some cases of more than a minute, anything that moved whilst the camera lens was open went either unrecorded or appeared transparent in the final product. In 1856, Sir David Brewster (1781-1868), an important figure in photography’s evolution, described in his book The Stereoscope: Its History, Theory, and Construction the method by which amusing extras could be created in photographs. Brewster advised that sitters should be posed and after the majority of the plate exposure was finished, a new person should move into the scene and stay for the final seconds. This would result in a “spirit” presence.
Whilst Brewster clearly promoted this method for what it was—a trick—others with an interest in the expanding religion of Spiritualism saw ghost images as proof of life after death. It should be noted that the Victorians were not the only folk taken in by the callow exploitation of technology they did not fully understand.
With the first affordable digital cameras in the 1990s came a veritable epidemic of “ghost orb,” “rod,” “vortex,” “portal,” and “skyfish” photos on the new World Wide Web. The promulgating of them, in some case, led to recognition and profit. These types of images were, and still are, the result of the compact distance between the flash and the lens of digital cameras illuminating dust, water droplets, bugs, camera straps, individual hairs, fingertips, human breath, and more. In 2018, we generally accept this explanation, but in 1995, the debates between believers and skeptics were as inflamed and impassioned as they were a century before, in the age of spirit photography.
William Mumler (1832-1884) of Boston is the best known of the many 19th-century American spirit photographers. Mumler claimed to have stumbled upon his miraculous ability by accident, but “as word spread, Mumler’s hobby became a lucrative business, and soon he was taking spirit photographs from dusk till dawn, summoning lost loves beneath his skylight, and dispensing solace to a public addled by the rising death toll of the Civil War,” wrote The New Yorker‘s Dan Piepenbring in an October 2017 review Peter Manseau’s book, The Apparitionists. “The images retain their intimate, macabre tint even now. His subjects assume stately, almost catatonic poses—the process required them to sit still for a full minute—their expressions pensive and inscrutable, their arms stiff and expectant. As for the spirits, they have the denatured texture of blighted leaves. Translucent smudges against a sooty backdrop, they sometimes coalesce into personhood only under scrutiny, in the same way that faces emerge from clouds. Stare at enough of them in sequence and you’ll fall into a loop of cognitive dissonance: they look so fake that they must be real, and then so real that they must be fake.”
Arguably, Mumler’s most famous image is of U.S. First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln, wearing widow’s mourning, taken some seven years after the president was shot at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. Mumler claimed in his autobiography that he hadn’t recognized Mary Lincoln when she came to his studio wreathed in a black veil, yet he duly produced an image showing the president gazing lovingly upon his wife. Whilst 99.9-percent sure today that the image is a fake, we can hope without hypocrisy that it comforted Mary then.
Another notorious spirit photographer was Frenchman Edouard Isidore Buguet (1840-1901). Also a medium, Buguet rocketed to fame in the early 1870s, but his success was short-lived. Frank Podmore wrote in his 1902 book, Mediums of the 19th Century, Vol. II, that in June 1875, “Buguet was arrested and charged by the French Government with the fraudulent manufacture of spirit photographs. When put on trial Buguet made a full confession. The whole of his ‘spirit’ photographs were, he stated, produced by means of double exposure.”
A plethora of witnesses testified favorably about the photographer and when “these witnesses were confronted with Buguet, and heard him explain how the trick had been done, one after another they left the witness-box, protesting that they could not doubt the evidence of their own eyes. . . . [I]t came out in the evidence that a very clearly defined head … which had been claimed by M. Leymarie as the portrait of his almost lifelong friend, M. Poiret, was recognised by another witness as an excellent likeness of his father-in-law, still living at Dreux, and much annoyed at his premature introduction to the spirit world,” noted Podmore.
In his 1911 book Photographing The Invisible, James Coates devotes two chapters to English spirit photographer Robert Boursnell (1832-1909). The first begins, “It appears that before Mumler got his first picture in 1861, Mr. Boursnell got curious appearances on his plates, not only spoiling them but leading to disagreements with his employer, who accused him of not cleaning the glass properly. These splotches came at intervals. For a long time, there was a lull. Boursnell was a medium; that was the trouble.”
The lull Coates mentions lasted 40 years. When Boursnell again picked up photography as an older man, the same results allegedly manifested, leading to the appearance of spirit faces and figures. As a spirit photographer, “He was strikingly successful and in 1903 the spiritualists of London presented him with a signed testimonial and a purse of gold as a mark of their high esteem. A hundred chosen spirit photographs were put on exhibition in the rooms of the Psychological Society at Portman Square,” stated Nandor Fodor in 1934’s, An Encyclopaedia of Psychic Science.
“Like every other spirit-photographer, he also was accused of fraud,” Fodor continued, noting that evidence of the fraudulent production of Boursnell’s images was presented to the London Spiritualist Alliance. “Duplicates, triplicates, and quadruplicates of Boursnell’s spirit pictures were numerous. A tracing could be made from one form in one photograph to the form in another, and not the slightest difference in detail could be discovered.”
Despite this, Boursnell—like Buguet—never lost the faith of his followers and was still considered by Coates to have been a genuine medium. In one example, Coates’ argument against the swipe of Occam’s razor seems particularly tortured. During the first decade of the 20th Century, an Australian man called Barnes sat for Boursnell in London. One of the ghost extras in the resulting image was conclusively proven to be a blurry reprint of a published portrait of assassinated Empress Elizabeth of Austria. Instead of viewing this as evidence of fraud, Coates saw it as proof that mental images from human minds might appear in spirit photos. Barnes, Coates explained, had read a book with the same image as its frontispiece sometime before visiting Boursnell.
Both the Spiritualism and the technology of the 19th Century required faith. In the 20th Century, the late Arthur C. Clark professed, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” For the average Victorian, the arcane processes of early photography were tantamount to paranormal occurrences. To today’s average folk, the Internet and technology-driven VR realms we inhabit are effectively the same. What is constant is this, as expressed by songwriter Roy Harper:
“That we both may share
The hope adhering
That we’re not just
Spirits disappearing.” Ω
The sons of Albert Berthoud and Marinda Boyton Root left Pennsylvania for Kansas, Colorado, and beyond, but they never stopped writing to the people of Wellsboro.
Albert Berthoud Root was born 3 October, 1813, in Farmington, Connecticut. His parents were Connecticut-born Noah Root, Jr. (1777-10 Oct., 1854), and Nancy Smith (1779-17 May, 1845.) The Root family had come to the American Colonies in the mid-1600s, and can be traced as far back as John Roote, who was born 24 January, 1576, in Badby England.
Between 1830 and 1832, Albert married the slightly older Marinda Boyden, who had been born in Royalton, Windsor County, Vermont in 1809. From the fashions displayed in this pair of cabinet cards, the originals were daguerreotypes taken in about 1850. They likely belonged to the descendants of the couple’s third son John C., as he is referenced on the reverse of each image: “Albert B. Root. John C. Root father,” and “Mrs. Mariandra Root Boyden. John C. Root mother.” The cabinet cards, which date to about 1890, are both marked “F. C. Lutes, Topeka, Kans.”
What Marinda actually called herself is up for debate. In the public records she appears as “Marinda,” “Miranda,” “Lavinda,” “Mariandra”—even “Gorinda.” However, Marinda appears most often, and is most likely correct.
Hannah Carroll gave birth to Marinda’s father, Joseph Boyden, Jr., less than a year before her husband set off to fight in the American Revolution.
Marinda’s paternal grandfather was Revolutionary War veteran and Walpole, Massachusetts, native Joseph Boyden (b. 4 December, 1729). According to a Sons of the American Revolution membership application filed by a descendant, Jonathan Boyden was a private in Captain Jeremiah Smith’s Company of Colonel John Smith’s Regiment, “which marched on the alarm of April 19, 1775, service 7 days; also Capt. Bullard’s Co., Col. Joseph Read’s Regt. Muster roll dated August 1, 1775. Service 2 months, 1 day; also company return dated Roxbury, Sept. 26, 1775; also order for bounty coat or its equivalent in money dated Dec. 20, 1775; also Capt. Daniel’s Co., Col. Ephram Wheelock’s Regt. Reported discharged Oct. 16, 1776; also Capt. Oliver Clap’s Co., Col. Wheelock’s Regt. Under command of major James Metcalf, marched to Rhode Island on the alarm of Dec. 8, 1776, service 21 days, at Warwick, RI, reported drafted for 3 weeks service at Warwick. Also Capt. Jacob Haskin’s Co., Col. John Jacob’s Regt., enlisted July 2, 1778, service 6 months, 1 day, at Rhode Island, enlistment to expire Jan. 1, 1779.”
The above reference to a “bounty coat” leads to this little-known historical tidbit taken from Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War: “On the 5th of July, 1775, a resolve was passed to provide each of the noncommissioned officers and soldiers of the army … with a coat, and 13,000 were ordered to be provided by the towns and districts, in accordance with a regular apportionment. This gift of a coat was considered in the nature of a bounty, and later, at the time of their distribution, the men in service were permitted to choose between acceptance of the coat or a sum of money in lieu thereof.”
Joseph Boyden’s wife Hannah Carroll gave birth to Marinda’s father, Joseph Boyden, Jr., in Walpole on 4 August, 1774, less than a year before her husband set off to fight in the American Revolution. Joseph, Jr., was later enumerated there with his then-widowed mother on the 1790 census of the town.
More than a half a century later, in 1854, a local paper wrote of Joseph, Jr., after his death and burial in Wellsboro Cemetery, Tioga County, Pennsylvania, “He grew to manhood [in Wapole], married Abigail Gilmore [b. 1781 in Wrenthan, Massachusetts; known as “Nabby”] on 2 October, 1799, in Walpole, and in 1848 came to Tioga County, Pennsylvania, and located in Delmar township. He was the father of nine children, as follows: Nancy, who married Enoch Cheney; Harriet, who married Charles Bond; Sanford; Addison; Lemuel; Miranda, wife of Albert Root, of Wellsboro; Eliza, wife of Lemuel Colvin; and Maria, who married Lyman Whitmore. Addison, Mrs. Root, and Mrs. Colvin are the only survivors of this family.”
Boyden died in Charleston township on January 5, 1854; his wife died 11 July, 1858, and was also buried in Wellsboro Cemetery, as are many other members of Marinda’s father’s family.
Root “came to Wellsboro in the winter of 1849, where he followed the trade of a mason as long as his health would permit.”
According to Albert Root’s obituary, which was published in the wonderfully titled Wellsboro Agitator, he had lived for some years in Binghamton, New York, with Marinda and their children. Root “came to Wellsboro in the winter of 1849, where he followed the trade of a mason as long as his health would permit. He was the father of a large family of children most of whom survive him. ”
The children of Albert and Marinda Boyden Root were Maria Louise (1833-1912); Joseph A. (1836-1926); Franklin Albert (3 July, 1837-1926), John C. (1839-1924); Eugene Bathobe (9 October, 1841-1917); Nancy (b. 1845); Josephine (b. 1847); and Henry C. (b. 1849), who were all born in Binghamton, New York, and Julius, who was born in 1851 in Tioga County, Pennsylvania.
The Root family appears on the 1850 census of Wellsboro with baby Henry aged only two months old. At the other end of the sibling spectrum, the eldest son Joseph III was a day laborer—later he would become a mason like his father. It was around this time that Albert and Marinda sat for the original daguerreotypes from which these images were copied.
A decade later, in 1860, the Roots still lived in Wellsboro. Albert once more gave his occupation as a mason; son John was a jobs printer, and Eugene a day laborer. The eldest children had established homes of their own; the youngest of the progeny were still with the parents.
Son John C. appears as a 22-year-old printer on the list of men subject to the military draft in 1863, as does his elder brother, the mason Joseph III. While it appears that neither John nor Joseph fought in the Civil War, their brothers Henry and Eugene did.
Henry was a member of Company A of the 187th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. The company participated in the siege of Petersburg, the Yellow Tavern, and fighting on the Weldon railroad, one of the main arteries of the South to ship supplies to Petersburg and Richmond. Eugene served as a private in Company I, 45th PA Infantry. He enlisted 21 September, 1861. The unit mustered at Camp Curtain on 21 October for a three-year enlistment under the command of Colonel Thomas Welsh. Among the bloody battles in which they fought were Antietam, Cold Harbor, South Mountain, and the Wilderness. Eugene’s unit mustered out 17 July, 1865.
Franklin, known as Frank, also did not serve. This is explained by his entry in Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History, Embracing Events, Institutions, Industries, Counties, Cities, Towns, Prominent Persons, Etc.; “He was educated in the country schools of New York and Pennsylvania, and in his boyhood worked on a farm. He was later hod-carrier and stage driver in Pennsylvania. At the age of twenty he came to Kansas, where he worked first in the office of the Herald of Freedom at Lawrence, and in the latter 50s was local editor on the Quindaro Chindowan. When the Civil War broke out he was assistant postmaster at Atchison, and was prevented from enlisting by his resignation not being accepted.”
By 1870, only sons Eugene and Julius remained with Albert and Marinda in Wellsboro. Both followed their father into the profession of mason—in Eugene’s case, his obituary makes clear he was a stone mason. Not long thereafter, Eugene married Elizabeth Kriner (b. 1854) and they became the parents of children Nellie Miranda (b. 1876) and Albert Laverne (15 April 1886-19 December, 1966). Eugene lived until 11 October, 1917, when at 10:30 in the morning, he died of valvular disease of the heart. Julius did not grow old; he died of consumption on 21 June, 1871, at the age of just 20 years.
A decade later, the 1880 census enumerated 44-year-old son Joseph III living with Albert and Marinda. Two years afterward, Albert Root died on 12 May, 1882. The Agitator of 16 May reveals, “Mr. Albert B. Root, an old and well-known resident of this borough, died at his home on Pearl Street last Saturday morning after being ill a few days with pneumonia.” He was buried in Wellsboro Cemetery. Marinda Boyden Root died 22 April, 1899. It seems logical that she is buried with her husband in Wellsboro Cemetery, but if this is the case, her grave is unmarked.
“Westward, Ho! Mr. John C. Root, who, boy and man, apprentice and foreman, has been in the Agitator Office for nine years, left for Kansas last Friday.”
Albert Root’s obituary states, “Three of his sons are engaged in the newspaper business in the West.” Two of those were John and Henry, who were both in Atchison Kansas in 1879, along with John’s wife Elizabeth (“Libby”) Bell (b. July 1842) and one-year-old daughter Mary. (John and Libby were married on 30 December, 1866, in Atchison.) Albert and Marinda’s firstborn daughter, Maria, also went west. She married blacksmith Samuel King (b. May 1836-15 June, 1886). The couple went to Kansas in 1864.
The circumstances around son John’s migration were reported by the Agitator, 20 December, 1865: “Westward, Ho! Our much esteemed foreman, Mr. John C. Root, who, boy and man, apprentice and foreman, has been in the Agitator Office for nine years, left for Kansas last Friday. He goes into the Daily Free Press Office, Atchison, Kansas, of which his brother [Harry C. Root], and our old friend and correspondent, is publisher. He takes with him what every young man, may, by equal fidelity and industry, command: the best wishes of all who know him, and the regrets of many, ourselves among the number. A tender hearted, more faithful and honest, and honorable man never breathed. Such a man must prosper wherever he goes. And may he prosper abundantly in his new home.”
Frank Root married Emma Clark in Topeka, Kansas, on 21 October, 1864. He regularly communicated with the Agitator about life in the new territory. Some of these printed letters mention his brothers and other former Wellsboro immigrants to Atchison. For example, on 3 March, 1868, he wrote, “I have lately received calls from G. D. Sofield, Lazell Kimball and John B. Emory, all from Wellsboro. Your quiet little place is well represented here. Bailey and Emory are selling goods, Kimball is recruiting his health, and John C. and Henry C. Root are ‘sticking type’ in the Daily Free Press office. All are well pleased with our ten-year-old city and bright prospects before her.”
“Frank Root is again in the newspaper business. This time he is publishing a neat weekly paper in North Topeka, called the Times.”
Henry Root also became a regular correspondent to the Agitator. (The brothers’ fascinating published reports from Kansas can be read in their entirety here.) Henry wrote of his brother, “Frank Root is again in the newspaper business. This time he is publishing a neat weekly paper in North Topeka, called the Times. Frank says his forte is in the newspaper business, and somehow he can’t keep out of it. He has got a live town to support him in his latest enterprise, and no doubt he will succeed.”
Henry Root returned to Wellsboro at least once, presumably to visit his parents and siblings. He mentions being there in the fall of 1876 in one of his letters to the Agitator. John also made at least one return visit to Wellsboro. Henry wrote on 2 July, 1877, “John C. Root, an old ‘typo’ in the office of the Champion and who is well known by everybody in Wellsboro and Tioga County, left on Wednesday last for a few weeks’ trip visiting his old home in Wellsboro. It is hoped the ‘boys’ will take good care of him while there. He has not been home for ten years.”
On 10 May, 1880, Henry wrote of Frank, “Frank A. Root has left Kansas, settling in Colorado, and will shortly commence the publication of a weekly paper at Gunnison City, in the southern portion of that State. This valley is said to be rich in agricultural as well as mineral wealth, and Frank predicts he has struck a big bonanza. A large emigration is flocking into this country.” (A fascinating series of letters that Frank wrote to the Agitator from primordial Gunnison can be read here.)
A year later, the Agitator of 5 July 1881, reported, “Mr. John C. Root, of Atchison, Kansas, arrived here on a visit to his parents last Friday. Mr. Root is a compositor in the Daily Champaign office at Atchison. It is four years since he last visited Tioga County. We are indebted to Mr. Root for some interesting western journals.” It was the last time John saw his aged father, and it was possibly also a last meeting with his mother.
John appeared in the 1885 and 1895 Kansas censuses with Libby and adult daughters Elva May (b. December 1871) and Annabel W. (b. March 1873). The 1880 U.S. census of Atchison showed the couple living with both, who are enumerated as “Elva May Hall” and “Hannah McClung,” as well as Annabel’s husband Charles McClung. John’s career was noted as compositor (print typesetter), whilst his son-in-law was a railroad brakeman.
On 3 February, 1901, Henry Root wrote to the Agitator, “The Overland Stage to California, by Frank A. Root, a former Wellsboro boy, now of Topeka, will soon be ready for the printer. It will contain upwards of 600 pages, including 200 or more illustrations, many of them from original drawings. The book itself will be an authentic history and personal reminiscences of the Overland Stage line and Pony Express between the Missouri River and the Pacific Ocean, carefully written by Mr. Root, who for some time was messenger in charge of the express and agent of the Post Office Department between Atchison, on the Missouri river, to the Rocky Mountains in the early 60s.”
By the taking of the 1910 census, the household of John Root had shrunk to himself, wife Libby, and daughter Annabel, who was married to a new man, the German “A. Wernimthier,” whose professional was as a “teletype operator, newspaper.”
Remarkably, we get a glimpse of Annabel as an elderly lady and former working woman in 1951, when the Atchison Daily Globe reported on 5 May, “When the Globe installed its first linotypes almost 50 years ago, three compositors were sent to Chicago for six weeks to learn how to operate and maintain the new machines, according to Mrs. A. W. Wernimthier of Lawrence, the former Annabel Root, who was one of them. The other two were Frank Watson and Jake Arthur. Mrs. Wernimthier had been setting type by hand for the Globe several years, and her father, John C. Root, long was a Globe printer. Adolph Wernimthier came from Chicago to set up the new linotypes, and four years later he and Annabel Root were married. Mrs. Wernimthier came to Atchison yesterday for the funeral of her sister, Mrs. Elva May Edlin.”
“In the old town I learned the printing business and there had my last school days way back in the ’50s.”
On 2 August, 1911, the Agitator reported that “Mr. Frank A. Root of Topeka, Kansas, the author of The Overland Stage to California, has the distinction of furnishing the first volume for the Green Free Library in Wellsboro. And it is proper that he should do so, for he is a Wellsboro boy…. On the flyleaf he writes the following autograph letter:
“‘I have known Wellsboro more or less from the first time I saw the little village in 1849. My admiration for the place and its people and institutions [is] lasting. In the old town I learned the printing business and there had my last school days way back in the [1850s]. I want to congratulate Wellsboro on its free public library and herewith I send the new institution one free passage by The Overland Stage to California.’ The volume… contains the personal reminiscences and authentic history of the great overland stage line and pony express and mail transportation from the Missouri river to the Pacific coast. Mr. Root was for years messenger in charge of the express and agent of the Post Office Department to look after the transportation over the plains and mountains…. Mr. Root is also the late publisher of the Atchison Free Press, the Atchison Champion, Waterville Telegraph, Seneca Courier, Holton Express, North Topeka Times, Gunnison, Col., Review-Press, and the Topeka Mail.”
Frank and Henry were still writing to the Agitator as late as the early 1920s, and continued to include memories that bring into the lives of the Root family. On 8 July, 1820, Frank wrote, “While enclosing my subscription for the Agitator, I am reminded that in the old Advertiser office, directly south across Main Street (opposite Dr. Robert Roy’s pioneer drug store,) in a one-story log building, I began work as an apprentice in 1850. This was the first printing office I was ever in. Wm. D. Bailey, who learned the trade with the Bergers in the Harrisburg Telegraph office, was proprietor and editor of the Advertiser, he having started the paper in the latter [1840s]. My first day’s work for Mr. Bailey was sawing up into stove lengths a cord of wood in the rear of the office. Before finishing the printing trade at times I worked also in the Banner and Eagle offices….”
Frank Root died at the home of his son, George Root, 324 Lindenwood Avenue, Topeka, Kansas, 20 June, 1926.
“He is full of reminiscences of Wellsboro in early days and he has written of them in former years most interestingly for the Agitator.”
On 9 August, 1922, the Wellsboro & Vicinity News published that “Henry C. Root, of Topeka, Kansas, is spending a month around his old home in Wellsboro. He is a veteran of the civil war and has been in the West since 1865. Mr. Root has been connected with prominent newspapers in Kansas for years. He is now a bailiff of the State Supreme Court. He is full of reminiscences of Wellsboro in early days and he has written of them in former years most interestingly for the Agitator. He says the first money he earned as a boy was paid him by Dr. Robert Roy, and a little later he was ‘roller Boy’ in the Agitator office when the paper was printed on a hand-lever press. For two days at such service each week he earned the princely wage of $1.”
In 1924, the Agitator noted that Henry was one of only eight living Civil War veterans of Company A of the 187th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. The group gathered in Wellsboro in early September, 1924.
In February 1932, Henry, was diagnosed with myocarditis and sent for care to the military home in Leavenworth, Kansas. Just two weeks later, on 14 March, he passed away. Henry Root lies buried in Topeka Cemetery. Ω
William Parry Rees was a man who died too young, but lived long enough to view an American tragedy.
This wonderful funeral cabinet card includes a photograph of the deceased William P. Rees, as well as date of his death (4 March, 1891) and his age (“23 years and 4 months”). It also features the interesting inscription “A.O. of K.M.C and K. of G.E.” The first denotes the deceased’s membership in the fraternal society Ancient Order of Knights of the Mystic Chain. The second refers to his membership in the Knights of the Golden Eagle, a fraternal organization founded in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1872. The orders’ original objectives were to help its members find employment and aid them while unemployed. Membership was open to white males over 18, without physical or mental handicaps, who were able to write and to support themselves, were law-abiding of sound moral character, and of the Christian faith. There was a female auxiliary called the Ladies of the Golden Eagle.
A splinter group of the Knights of Pythias, the AO of KMC was founded in Reading, Pennsylvania, in 1870. According to a website about the order, “Though it seems to have been quite popular in PA, it doesn’t seem to have made much headway outside of that state—it is not listed among the top forty fraternal orders in the world almanac of 1896 and probably had no more than 10,000-15,000 members at its peak. Like most small orders, it did not survive the Great Depression of the 1930s.”
Another site about the AO of KMC states that “This group was founded in 1871 in the traditions of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Amongst the founders were freemasons and Knights of Pythias. Some of the characteristics of this order can be traced to these two groups. The Knights of the Mystic Chain has three degrees: Knighthood, Mystery and Chivalry…. There was also a separate paramilitary uniform-rank and a degree for women: Naomi or the Daughters of Ruth. In 1889, the order started to work in insurance, however it never grew larger. At its top it had around 40,000 members. It disappeared in the first half of the 20th century.”
William Parry Rees, the deceased young man who belonged to both of these groups and from whom these flowers—and possibly funeral expenses—presumably came, was born in Cefn Bychan, Denbighshire, Wales, in about 1866. He was the son of Baptist minister Llewellyn Rees (b. October 1835, Glyntawe, Breconshire, Wales) and his wife Elizabeth Edwards (b. 7 June 1839, Ystradgunlais, Breconshire, Wales, daughter of Edward Edwards and Elizabeth Parry), who wed in 1861. His elder brother Henry E. had been born in August 1863 in Carmarthenshire; his younger sister, Kate W., was born in Cefn Bychan in 1869.
The 1871 Wales Census places Elizabeth Rees alone at the address 1 Cefn Bychan, with her young children. The enumerator names her as head of household, but also notes in a scribble that the missing Reverent Rees “is abroad.” Cefn Bychan (“Little Ridge” in Welsh) is part of the larger community of Cefn within the County Borough of Wrexham. The area was heavy with iron, coal, and sandstone—therefore quite industrialized, with mining, blast furnaces, forges, and stone cutting aplenty.
The Rees family had crossed the Atlantic to the United States by the early 1870s. This is made clear by the 1880 census of Millville, Cambria County, Pennsylvania, which recorded the birth another son, Llewellyn, Jr., in Texas about seven years before. Further evidence in the 1900 census narrows the emigration year to 1871, probably just after the Welsh census indicated the Reverend Rees was abroad. Chances are that he was already in America and that his wife and children followed when the way had been prepared.
Sadly, the Rees’s daughter, Kate was not to long enjoy her new life in America. Eleven-year-old Kate and her seven-year-old brother Llewellyn both died 11 November, 1880, certainly from infectious disease, and were buried in Johnstown’s Grandview Cemetery on 13 November. It must have been a terrible blow to Elizabeth and Reverend Rees. Like many grieving parents, they tried to replace the beloveds they had lost. The following year, 42-year-old Elizabeth gave birth to a daughter they named Edith. Elizabeth fell pregnant again in 1882, but the child died at birth. Grandview cemetery recorded the burial of a “Son of Elizabeth Rees” in the same plot as other Rees family members. Mysteriously, that interment did not take place until 1890, although the death had occurred eight years earlier, suggesting the infant was first laid to rest in another location.
Both Reverend Rees, his eldest son Henry, and second son William (whose professions were listed as railroad engineers), appeared in an 1887 city directory for Johnstown, living in Elk Street, Morrellville, a borough just outside of the town. They and the rest of the Rees clan were shortly to witness one of the most horrific disasters in U.S. history—the apocalyptic flood that devastated Johnstown on 31 May, 1889. The catastrophe resulted from the failure of the South Fork Dam of the Little Conemaugh River, 14 miles upstream from the town, killing 2,209 people.
“The South Fork dam held back Lake Conemaugh, the pleasure lake of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, a prestigious club which included such famed entrepreneurs as Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick on its membership rolls. Officials there feared the dam would fail…. The lake was a little over two miles long, a little over a mile wide at its widest spot, and 60 feet deep at the dam itself,” wrote Edwin Hutcheson in Floods of Johnstown.
The flood was described by Hutcheson as “a body of water which engineers at the time estimated moved into the valley with the force of Niagara Falls. [It] rolled into Johnstown with 14 miles of accumulated debris, which included houses, barns, animals and people, dead and alive.”
There are a number individuals surnamed Rees who died in the Johnstown flood, but none of these were definitively related to the Reverend Llewellyn Rees family. In fact, the 1889 Johnstown directory denoted men killed by crosses typeset beside their names. Reverend Rees is included in that directory—sans cross—as the pastor of the Baptist church in Morrellville. The same directory includes a lengthy news account of the flood and notes that “Morrellville…escaped with slight comparative loss, and the same is true of all towns farther down the river, but the people of these had the exciting and heart-rending experience of rescuing many that had floated down from Johnstown, and of seeing others go by without being able to assist them.” The reverend and his sons would almost certainly have been amongst the rescuers who tried to save people during the flood and who searched for survivors and victims in the aftermath.
On 4 March, 1891, less than two years after his town was decimated, railroad engineer William Rees died of as yet undiscovered causes—as young has he was, infectious disease or accident are surely to blame. He was buried several days later in the Grandview Cemetery Rees family plot.
In 1893, the Johnstown directory listed Reverend Rees at 234 Fairfield Avenue. His eldest son Henry, also resided in the house. The reverend and Henry were listed at the same address in 1899. With them was Elizabeth Rees and Edith, still a student.
The 1900 census of Johnstown placed the Reverend Rees and his wife alone in their home. Eldest son Henry was in Johnstown, but had a new home with his wife Esther Cole, whom he had married in 1896. Esther had been born in Wales in December 1871 and had come to America in 1897. If the marriage date of 1896 is correct, it implies that Henry had returned to Wales and there found a bride. Also living with the couple was Esther’s niece, Mary Cole (b. January. 1888, Wales), who had emigrated in 1898 or 1899. In 1901, the couple had a son whom they named Ralph E. Rees. Esther Cole Rees died 27 February, 1908.
The Reverend Rees died 15 March, 1911, and is buried at Grandview. Daughter Edith Rees, became a school teacher at the Bheam School just down the street from the family home, remained with her mother, Elizabeth, until at least 1920, when both women are recorded together on the census. Elizabeth Rees died of a cerebral hemorrhage 3 September, 1922, and was buried at Grandview three days later.
Henry Rees appears on the 1910 census of Wilkensburg, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, as a 47-year-old widower and a laborer at the Westinghouse Air Brake Company. His wife’s niece, Mary, also dwelt with Henry, probably caring for his son, and may have doing so since his birth. Ralph would eventually go west to Billings, Montana, appearing on censuses there after 1930. He married a woman named Beatrice and had at least one son and two daughters.
Daughter Edith also went west to Kirby, Big Horn County, Montana, where she married William H. Furman (24 Nov., 1874-22 May, 1955). Edith died 5 January, 1971. Ω
“We used to be fascinated watching the owner, the late Elmer Marshall, sitting at his desk in the window.”—Nashua Telegraph, 1961
Due to a wonderful synchronicity, I own two cabinet card portraits of Elmer Daniel Marshall, late-Victorian and Edwardian man of business. I was contacted by a photo seller who found the image above on Elmer’s Find A Grave memorial after I had placed it there. He offered me a younger image of Marshall, below, which I purchased to keep them together.
Elmer was born 3 July, 1862, in Nashua, New Hampshire, the son of Daniel Robinson Marshall, born 18 March, 1821, in Windham, New Hampshire, and his wife Roxanna R. Morse, of Wilton, New Hampshire, born 25 January, 1824. She was the daughter of Ephrem Morse and Lois Hackett, both of Wilton.
His paternal grandparents were Samson Marshall (3 April, 1786-28 May, 1845), a watchman, and his wife Margaret Davidson (1794-9 Feb., 1877); his great-grandfather was Nathaniel, son of Richard and Ruth Marshall, who married Hannah Marsh in 1788. She was born at Nottingham West, New Hampshire, 22 July, 1757.
Daniel Marshall, who was then a butcher, and Roxanna Morse married before 1850. It appears the couple’s firstborn was a boy named Charles, who died before the 1850 census was taken. In that year, the couple were enumerated with a five-month-old daughter, Harriet L., who died before the next census in 1860. In that year, the Marshalls lived with Daniel’s mother Margaret and a daughter, Carrie G. (b. December 1858), who died only a few months later in August. Today, in Nashua’s Woodlawn Cemetery, where several generations of Marshalls are interred, there is a row of three tiny stones—the only trace of Elmer’s lost siblings.
(A curious aside: Daniel Marshall’s occupation in 1860 was noted by the census taker as “man.”)
In 1861, at age 40, Daniel Marshall dutifully registered for to serve as a Union soldier, but was never called up.
Daniel was 41 when his only surviving child, Elmer, was born in the summer of 1862. At the time of the 1870 Census, Daniel was a real-estate dealer; by 1880, he had again radically changed professions and was a deputy sheriff. Daniel Marshall died of heart disease, aged 72, 29 September, 1893. He is buried at Woodlawn.
Elmer was married 5 August, 1886, to Nettie Agnes Flagg (November 1864-11 March, 1951), daughter of Hollis, New Hampshire, farmer Henry A. Flagg (b. 1821) and his wife Adeline Wheeler. Three children were born to Elmer and Nettie: Roy Flagg Marshall (15 April, 1888-29 Jan., 1961); Paul Hackett Marshall (21 November, 1889-11 Sept., 1972), and Evelyn Lucile Marshall (21 August 1897-28 Dec., 1989).
The 1900 Census reveals that Elmer was a wholesale grocer who lived with his mother, his wife, and their children. Two years earlier, an 1898 Nashua directory listed Elmer and a cousin, John Otis Marshall (17 Sept., 1840-22 Feb., 1902), as the proprietors of the Marshall Grocery Company located at 11 and 12 Railroad Square. A Nashua Telegraph articleof 29 April, 1959, gives some background on the business: “In 1865, John and Caleb Marshall opened the first wholesale grocery business in eastern half of the old building…on Railroad Square. In 1893, Caleb left his brother to establish a similar business on Franklin Street…. Elmer D. Marshall joined John in 1893 and continued the business as the Marshall Grocery Company until [John retired] and the Holbrook brothers bought John’s interest.”
The rechristened Holbrook-Marshall Company opened in mid-May 1906, but less than a year later the trade publication Flour and Feed reported that the building “collapsed, with considerable damage,” but did not give the cause. In 1911, the Telegraph noted that Elmer had become a member of the board of the Nashua Hospital Association. In early 1912, the Pennsylvania Bureau of Foods reported, “Ninety barrels of vinegar in the possession of the Holbrook Marshall Grocery Company of Nashua, N. H., were seized by pure food inspectors because of misbranding.” Otherwise, it was a sterling and prosperous company. A piece of surviving ephemera proclaims it a wholesaler of groceries and flour, as well as a jobber of pork and lard, and a coffee roaster.
Elmer and Nettie’s son Roy was married 18 June, 1913, to Kittie Gladys Grover (1889-1988). A son, Lewis R. Marshall, was born in 1917, then, in a twist of fate, on 8 August, 1914, Elmer’s second grandchild, Gladys Shirley, was born the same day his mother Roxanna died at age 90 years, six months, and 11 days. On Roxanna’s death record, the cause was listed simply as “old age.” She was laid to rest in Woodlawn with the husband she had outlived by more than two decades. Crushingly, little Gladys followed her great-grandmother 16 August, 1918, dying at age 4 after an operation on a ruptured appendix. The little girl lies buried with her family in Edgewood Cemetery, Nashua.
After Gladys’s death, Roy and Kittie would have five more children, some of whom are still living today. His World War I registration card describes him as tall and slender, with blue eyes and dark brown hair. In April 1942, he also registered for the World War II draft. In that record his height was logged at 5’11”, his complexion fair, and his hair grey.
Roy, and presumably both his siblings, graduated from Nashua High School. He went on to New York City’s Packard business College, earning his degree in 1907. After his father retired from Holbrook-Marshall, Roy succeeded him as president and treasurer until his own retirement in 1946. He died in Nashua in January 1961 and is interred at Edgewood. His obituary notes that at the time of his death, Roy had 18 grand-children, so there are many descendants of Elmer Marshall alive today to stumble across this article.
On 25 June, 1913, Elmer and Kittie’s son Paul wed Marcia May Barnes (1891–1981) at the home of the bride’s parents in Litchfield, New Hampshire. The couple had one son, Warren Elmer Marshall, born in 1914.
In 1917, Paul registered for the World War I draft and was described as 5’6″ and of a medium build with brown hair and blue eyes. He was also noted as suffering “nasal trouble.” He did not serve in the war, but went on to spend his early career in the Holbrook-Marshall Company. By 1930, however, he altered his course to become an insurance salesman. In 1935, Paul and his family removed to Worcester, Massachusetts, where he continued in the same field. In the 1940s, he became a Mason at Worcester’s Rose of Sharon Lodge, and the 6 July, 1963, issue of the Telegraph reported on Paul and Marsha’s golden wedding anniversary in Worcester, which was attended by his brother Roy and many other family members from New Hampshire. Paul Marshall died in Boylston, Massachusetts, 11 September, 1972. He is buried in Edgewood Cemetery, Nashua.
Paul’s son Warren married thrice, and with his third wife, Marie Teresa Madden (1910-1981), had five children. Warren passed away 11 March, 2004, in Falmouth, Massachusetts. He and his wife are buried at Woodlawn Cemetery.
“Miss Marshall and Holbrook were rushed to Memorial Hospital and late last night, the condition of Miss Marshall was considered serious.”
On 8 July, 1926, daughter Evelyn Marshall was injured in a dramatic attempt to evade justice by one of her father’s employees. According to the Portsmouth Herald, when confronted by a police inspector over an arrest warrant, “Whitney I. Rushlow backed the big limousine he was driving against a pole. [This] threw Inspector Fletcher against a post, severely injuring him, smashed his car and injured Miss Evelyn Marshall and E. S. Holbrook, passengers in the machine. Miss Marshall and Holbrook were rushed to Memorial Hospital and late last night, the condition of Miss Marshall was considered serious. Rushlow is chauffeur for E. D. Marshall of the Holbrook-Marshall Wholesale Grocery Co. and was seated in the car in front of the warehouse awaiting Mr. Marshall when the police approached….” Evelyn survived her injuries and I can find no further mention of the incident in local news.
Elmer’s daughter never married, appears never to have had a profession, served as her mother’s executrix in 1951, and after her own death in late December 1989, was buried with her parents in Woodlawn Cemetery.
“No matter what time we went to school or came home, he invariably could be found at that desk.”
A 1922 passenger record exists for Elmer Marshall, at age 62, entering the port of New York on the S.S. Orca. He was traveling alone and listed his address as 22 Berkley Street, Nashua—a nine-room house, built in 1900, that is still standing and occupied today.
In January 1926, the Telegraph reported that he had been reelected an officer of Indian Head National Bank. He made his last census appearance in 1930 with his wife and 32-year-old daughter. He died in 5 October, 1935, of a coronary occlusion after almost a decade of myocarditis. A brief obituary appeared in New England papers, stating that he died at home and had been, at the time of his passing, the treasurer of the Holbrook-Marshall Company of Keene and Nashua, New Hampshire.
An article in the Nashua Telegraph of 1 Feb., 1961, remembered, “The Holbrook-Marshall Company on East Hollis Street, back forty years or so ago, was the largest wholesale grocery firm in New England, we would venture to say. It was a beehive of activity in those days, and we used to be fascinated watching the owner, the late Elmer Marshall, sitting at his desk in the window, He was our idea of a businessman, in those days.” Elmer’s seat at the window was also remarked upon in an earlier 1959 article: “On our way to the junior high school and high school we had to pass that building several times a day and can still picture, sitting at an open desk before and open window [Marshall], a distinguished looking man. No matter what time we went to school or came home, he invariably could be found at that desk.”
Roy is also mentioned in the 1961 Telegraph article, “[Elmer’s] son, Roy Marshall, also occupied the other front office and even then he was heir-apparent to this flourishing business…. All of this is recalled with the death this week of Roy Marshall. The firm, as we recall it, went out of business 20 years or so ago. And we shake our heads to think of the trainload after trainload of grocery goods being moved into their warehouses for distribution in our area each week by this old, established firm.”
Elmer was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery. His wife, Nettie, died in Nashua on 11 March, 1951, as was also buried at Woodlawn. Ω
Update: In August 2017, I received this correspondence from relative Gail Marshall, which highlights the difficulty that a historian has in resuscitating the lives of strangers—to wit, a lack of family secrets :
“I was thrilled to find information on your page about my Great Grandfather Elmer D. Marshall that included his picture. I too was born on July 3rd. There are however a few incorrect parts in what you published that I would like corrected. My Father, Warren E. Marshall, was the first grandchild of E. D. so he received quite a bit of attention from his grandparents. As a result, my Father spent a great deal of his childhood at 22 Berkley St in Nashua. His time there was not because my grandparents were poor. Paul and Marcia were never poor….
“As with many families there are tensions and squabbles between members. My Grandfather, Paul, and his older brother, Roy did not get along. So they visited their parents at separate times. My grandparents at one point lived in Manchester, NH. Paul worked for the family business until he went in to insurance. Paul then had his own insurance agency in Worcester, MA, until he retired. He then worked at a bank where he had his heart attack which ultimately he passed from.
“There are several reasons for Paul and Roy’s dislike for one another. Based on a comment from my Father, Paul and Kitty liked one another more than just in-laws. E. D. requested that Paul step aside and let Roy court Kitty. Then as was customary the oldest son, in this case Roy, took over the family business. Once Elmer passed Roy really did not do anything with the family business and let it run in to the ground until it had to be closed.”
Thank you, Gail, for providing me with this information. I am glad to add it to the story of Elmer D. Marhsall.
“You shall come to your grave in ripe old age, like a sheaf gathered up in its season.”
On 26 March, 1900, the Alfred Sun of Allegheny County, New York, included this obituary: “Abial Thomas, son of Rowland and Prudence Thomas, was born Sept. 22, 1825, and died Mar. 2, 1900, aged 74 years, 5 months, and 10 days. He was married Sept. 25, 1845, to Mary Crandall, being one of three brothers who married three sisters. In 1848, his wife and infant child died. Mr. Thomas was married again Dec. 1, 1840, to [Ascenath] Jane Stillman. Seven children resulted from this union. Prudence, now Mrs. McHenry, who resides at Alfred Station; Rowland of Hornellsville; Mary, Mrs. Congdon of Hornellsville; Nancy, deceased; Frank of Hornellsville; Lucy, deceased; and Charlotte, Mrs. Melville Green of Hornellsville. Two brothers and one sister also survive, viz., Rowland Thomas of Alfred; Silas Thomas of Milton, Wis.; and Mrs. Alma Green of Silver Lake. Mr. Thomas was taken a little over a week before his death with acute pneumonia, and little hope of his recovery was entertained from the first. The funeral services were held at the 2nd Alfred Church, conducted by the pastor. Text, Acts 26:8. The funeral was well attended, a good many old neighbors and relatives of the deceased being present.”
Abial Thomas was a lifetime native of Alfred—an unusual locality in that there is a Village of Alfred within the borders of the eponymous town that is the site of Alfred State College, Alfred University, and the New York State College of Ceramics. Abial spent his days as a farmer and later a carpenter, never appearing in the newspapers and leaving few records; he registered for the Civil War draft, for example, but already in his late 30s, Abial did not serve.
The above detail of the cabinet card allows us to see Abial as he was late in life, as well as his coffin plaque. According to Ancestors at Rest, “In North America…the popularity of the practice of removing the plates from the coffin before burial increased. Often the coffin plates were never attached to the coffin but displayed on a stand or table next to it…. This practice started in the early 1840s and was particularly popular in the North Eastern United States, Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island…. This practice peaked in the late 19th century (1880-1899) and by the 1920s this practice had all but stopped.”
After the funeral, the coffin plaques might become parts of hanging wall shrines to the deceased, which were often replete with wax-dipped linen flowers, skeletonized leaves, dyed and shaped feathers, shells, locks of hair, photographs, and other sentimental items.
The wheat sheaf amongst Abial’s funeral flowers is also worthy of note. Unseen at modern funerals, during the 19th Century the wheat sheaf was a recognized symbol of the biblical verse Job 5:26: “You shall come to your grave in ripe old age, like a sheaf gathered up in its season.” This is beautifully illustrated in the cabinet card above, which includes both elements of the verse from Job. The wheat sheaf was regularly given in tribute to the elderly.
“Her life was marked for honesty of dealings and purity of character.”
The Sabbath Recorder of 17 April, 1890, provides us a concise biography of Abial’s second wife, Ascenath Jane, who had died a decade before him. She was “born in Newport, Herkimer Co., N.Y., Oct. 10, 1818, and died at her home in Alfred, after an illness of about five weeks of heart disease, March 29, 1890, in the 72nd year of her age. Mrs. Thomas was a daughter of Ezra Stillman, long known and well remembered. Four sons and one daughter only are now left of his family. Under the ministry of Elder John Green she was baptized and united with the Seventh-Day Baptist Church of Newport, of which she remained a member until it disbanded, and she never removed her membership. Her life was marked for honesty of dealings and purity of character. In 1849, she was married to Abial Thomas, by whom she had seven children. She was held in honorable esteem by all who knew her, and casting all her cares on Jesus, she died, as she had lived, a Christian.”
“The invaluable and delightful art of stenography, taught by the aid of mnemonics, in the most interesting and amusing manner, by which its principles may be indelibly fixed upon the most treacherous mind.”
Augustus Frederick Snell was born 19 January, 1833. Almost a month later, on 17 February, 1833, he was christened at St. Michael, Headingley, West Yorkshire, England, which is today a suburb of Leeds. When Augustus was born, Headingley was still very much a village, but one that had begun to lure the affluent who wished to escape the industrial city’s smoke and bother.
Augustus’s parents, William (1791-1847) and Maria Calvert Snell (1803-1873), were respectable, educated late Georgians. On their marriage record of 9 July, 1825, William’s occupation was given as “professor of handwriting.” Later, he became a teacher of stenography and a shorthand writer for the company of Lewis & Snell on Board Lane, opposite Albion Street. The company’s advert in the 14 July, 1825, issue of the Leeds Intelligencer states that “the invaluable and delightful art of stenography, taught by the aid of mnemonics, in the most interesting and amusing manner, by which its principles may be indelibly fixed upon the most treacherous mind.” The price was 25s for the six lessons of the course, and separate apartments were set aside for ladies and those who wished to take their lessons alone.
Maria Calvert ran the Ladies’ Seminary in Headingley before her marriage, and after a brief honeymoon, reopened the school on 14 July, 1825. An Intelligencer advert that ran on that day noted the cost per student per annum as 20 Guineas, for which the girl would be instructed in reading, grammar, geography, plain and fancy needlework, writing, and arithmetic. Additionally, “Mrs. S. has made arrangements for instructing her Pupils in Music, Dancing, Drawing, and every fashionable Accomplishment.”
In future adverts, the school was described as “commodious, in a remarkably pleasant and airy situation, and has two playgrounds.”
In the years ahead, Maria advertised for male day students who would be instructed by William Snell. They needed increased income as babies began to arrive. The Snells produced eight children, most of whom survived childhood: William Mortimer (1826-1835), Adolphus (1828-1832), Maria Ruthetta (1831-1832), Augustus, Edmond Garforth (1834-1871), William (1837-1918), Walter (1838-1902), and Maria (1840-1898).
Another advertisement in the Leeds Mercury of 6 July, 1837, revealed the Snells were clearing out ahead of a move to London. Up for sale were “the household furniture; books; pictures; Mahogany dining, card, and Pembroke tables; carpets; sets of Moreen window curtains and appendages; looking glasses; camp bedsteads and hangings; feather and flock beds and bedding; cane seated chairs; chests of drawers; a small select library of books; Mahogany and painted press bedsteads; mirror, kitchen, and other requisite effects. In lots to suit purchasers, and without the least reserve.”
“Springing from his bed, he possessed himself of a pair of pistols, which with some difficulty were wrested from him.”
The great city of London was William Snell’s birthplace. His father, Augustus’s grandfather Richard Snell (1759-1831), operated canal carriers from the nation’s metropolis to Yorkshire, Manchester, Liverpool, and the north of England. According to the 20 December, 1819, Intelligencer, “Goods are daily forwarded per Fly-Boats, on the most approved System, with the utmost care and dispatch. Should the Canal Conveyance be stopped by Frost or Accident, Goods will be forwarded by Land, if required, at the lowest possible expense to the owners.” Those wishing to use these services were told to find Snell, Robins, and Snell of London at their warehouse, White Bear Yard, Basinghall Street. It also appears that the group kept the White Bear Inn, presumably also of that place.
Richard Snell died 18 January, 1831, in Edgeware Road, Paddington, leaving the majority of his estate to his son Adolphus, including all his wearing apparel, household furniture, utensils, wine, beer, liquor, and fuel. William Snell inherited 1/5th of his father’s estate, as did his other uncles—all of them colorful characters.
Take, for example, Richard Snell the younger (b. 1789) who died when Augustus was two. “MELANCHOLY OCCURRENCE!” screamed the Manchester Courier on 2 February, 1839. “We are sorry to announce the death of Mr. R. Snell, wine and spirit merchant…. He had been laboring under considerable mental irritability for some days, although free from violent or dangerous symptoms.” Whilst his doctor was with him one evening, “He was suddenly seized with an impression that his life was in danger. Springing from his bed, he possessed himself of a pair of pistols, which with some difficulty were wrested from him.”
After being pacified by his doctor and wife, Snell thought he heard the front door open. “He again became excited, rushed downstairs, and finding the door to the house locked, he seized a poker, broke the windows and succeeded in getting out into the yard. He thence crossed an orchard, and proceeded into Mr. Seddon’s premises adjoining, where he sank down exhausted,” reported the Courier. Shortly thereafter, his doctor found Snell “quite dead.” An inquest decided that “the deceased had died from the effect of excessive excitement, under the influence of temporary derangement.”
Another Uncle, George Blagrave Snell, was lauded in memoriam by the London Daily Telegraph after his sudden death from a heart attack in Brighton in 1874. Under the title “Death of a Well-Known Shorthand Writer,” it was reported, “Mr. Snell was the father of his profession, having followed it actively for upwards of a half century…. He was retained by the Government, often at much risk to his life, to report the speeches made by various agitators at public meetings during the time of the Irish Rebellion of 1831, and he was known at that time as ‘The Recording Angel of the Marquess of Anglesey’…. He has since on many important occasions been engaged by the Government, and his presence will not fail to be missed, not only in the courts of law, but in both Houses of Parliament.”
In the days before audio and film recording, shorthand writers like Snell played an important role in the workings of justice. It was their job to faithfully transcribe interviews with the various parties in court cases, civil and criminal. Traces of Snell’s normal daily work (when not busy in his superhero role of “Recording Angel”) can be found in the records of the Old Bailey, such as a case against one George Sherborne, who was charged with “Unlawfully within four months of his bankruptcy obtaining from Samuel Brewer and others certain pianos, and disposing of them otherwise than in the ordinary course of his trade,” which sounds ridiculous, and frankly was (the defendant was found not guilty), but shows how seriously bankruptcy was taken in Victorian Britain.
Snell describes his part of the process in the trial transcript, “I am one of the official shorthand writers to the London Court of Bankruptcy, and attended the examination of the prisoner on 15th January, 1879, before Mr. Registrar Pepys, and took down the questions put to him and his answers—the transcript on the file of proceedings is correct.”
George Blagrave Snell married at age 20 Harriet Saxon (1802-1885) on 15 January, 1825, at St. Marylebone, Westminster. Snell and his wife had eight children, all of whom lived to adulthood. One of their sons, for whom it is worth pausing, was Henry Saxon Snell (1831-1904). He was Augustus’s first cousin and became an architect of some note.
Henry Snell attended University College London and was inducted as a fellow into the Royal Institute of British Architects. He specialized in designing public buildings and amongst his works were the Montrose Asylum, the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, the Leancholi Hospital, and the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal, Canada.
Another son, George Blagrave Snell, Jr. (1829-1910), also became a shorthand writer and his father’s business partner until the older man’s demise. His story shall be told farther along.
“I have a printing press and types for printing within Newcastle Place in the Parish of Paddington.”
When Augustus’s Uncle Adolphus Snell’s life ended on 6 September, 1872, he was a civil engineer’s clerk in Baker Street, but earlier, he was a printer. A surviving letter in the British National Archives of 5 April, 1834, to the Clerk of the Peace in the county of Middlesex reads, “I, Adolphus Snell, of 13 St. Alban’s Place, Edgeware Road, Paddington, do humbly declare that I have a printing press and types for printing…within Newcastle Place in the Parish of Paddington, for which I desire to be entered for that purpose in pursuance of an act passed in the 39th year of His Majesty George the Third, entitled ‘An Act for the More Effective Suppression of Societies Established for Seditious and Treasonable Purposes and for Better Preventing Treasonable and Seditious Practices.’”
(Inscrutably, Adolphus’s death certificate indicates that he expired of “disease of ankle & exhaustion” while at Westminster Hospital.)
Next we come to Augustus’s Uncle James Snell, born 13 March, 1798, in St. Marylebone, Paddington, London. His daughter Emma Harriet Norwood Snell was baptized 26 December, 1822, at Paddington, St. James. This church record notes the occupation of James Snell as dentist.
James Snell invented the first mechanical reclining dental chair with an adjustable seat and back in 1832. James Snell was also a member of the Royal College of Surgeons and the author of A Practical Guide to Operations on the Teeth, in which he made the design of his dental chair design public.
“There is no part of the apparatus of the dentist of more importance to his success, than a good operating chair. To this particular, the professors of this country have not paid sufficient attention, most of them having nothing but a common arm-chair, the use of which must, in many cases, be alike inconvenient to the operator, and fatiguing to the patient,” he wrote. “For some years I used nothing but a common arm chair, but I was so constantly encountering proofs of its inconvenience, both to myself and the patient, that I felt it my duty to construct a chair, better, adapted to the purpose. Having done so, I can say with sincerity, that I have never ceased to blame myself for having so long neglected it.”
At some point afterward, James Snell emigrated to the West Indies. He was memorialized in the London Standard of 9 August, 1850, in two simple lines: “On the 6th…at Kingston, St. Vincent’s, West Indies, James Snell, Esq., in this 55th year.”
Newcastle Place, as the Snells knew it, is long erased, but it was then and is today a literal stroll to Paddington Station.
It is unclear why the Snells left Headingley for London in 1837, but the relocation was likely tied to Uncle Adolphus’s press. When Augustus’s brother Walter was born 20 September, 1838, and christened on 3 November, the baptismal entry records that William and Maria lived in Bayswater and that William was a printer.
A decade after returning to London, Augustus’s father died 3 December, 1847. The 1851 Census placed the family in Paddington, living in 5a Newcastle Place, which was the site of Uncle Adolphus’s press. Maria Snell was the 67-year-old head of the house and business, with her was 18-year-old Augustus and others of his siblings, the eldest of which were working for the printery.
Newcastle Place, as the Snells knew it, is long erased, but it was then and is today a literal stroll to Paddington Station. Construction for the main terminal was completed and the facility opened to the public 29 May, 1854. Augustus would have seen and heard the trains toing and froing, and the seed was possibly placed in his mind that the railroad could provide meaningful work.
December, 1856, banns were read at St. Mary, Paddington Green, for Augustus and Jane Pullan, who was the wan, brown-haired, and dark-eyed daughter of Thomas and Ann Pullan. The marriage was solemnized 10 February, 1857, in the parish of St. Mary, Paddington Green, Westminster.
It is probable that the original daguerreotype of my cabinet card was made to commemorate the couple’s union, as the fashions worn by Augustus and Jane date exactly to their marriage year. Some time later, probably in the late 1880s or early 1890s, the daguerreotype was duplicated by the well-known “Stereoscopic Company of 110 & 108 Regent Street W.” (Visit the company’s website to see a stereoview of the building where a Snell clan member took the wedding daguerreotype to be copied.)
Jane’s father, Yorkshireman Thomas Pullan, born in 1803, was a mason by trade. Her mother, Anne Booth, was from Spofforth, Yorkshire, born circa 1807. Jane, the eldest daughter, was born in Chapel Allerton, West Yorkshire, sometime before 12 August, 1838, when her christening occurred at St. Mary the Virgin, Hunslet.
The Pullan family appears on the 1841 and 1851 censuses of Chapel Allerton. During the latter of these censuses, Jane, then aged 18, was enumerated as a house servant at the home of a Royal Bank of England clerk and his family. At some point before 1856, Jane left this employment and moved to London.
It may be that the Snells and the Pullans knew each other. Augustus’s childhood home of Headingley is a mere two miles from Jane’s Chapel Allerton. Perhaps the couple were long-time friends—even long-time sweethearts, or perhaps they met through a chance encounter in the capital city. Whatever the case, four years after their marriage, the 1861 Census placed Augustus and Jane Snell in Christchurch, St. Marylebone, Middlesex, living at 6 Sherborne Street with their sons Thomas Edmund (b. 4 January, 1858; baptized 7 March, Paddington Green) and Charles Walter (26 November, 1859, Marylebone, London). Augustus listed his occupation as a printer and their abode was in Grove Terrace.
Two years afterward, in February 1863, Augustus, then aged 29, became employed by the Great Western Railway in the goods department at Paddington Station. He stayed in the job only a month then resigned his position. Why he did so is not known, but Augustus never again attempted to make the railroad a career.
The 1871 Census enumerated the Snells in Willesden, Middlesex, in Northwest London, about five miles from Charing Cross. The area was mostly rural then and had a population of only some 18,500. But Willesden was on the cusp of urbanization. The Metropolitan Line’s stop at the Willesden Green connected it to the city center in 1879 and just 25 years later, the population grew more than seven times to 140,000.
In 1871, Augustus stated his occupation as a shorthand clerk, no doubt drawing on skills learned from his father. By 1881, Augustus worked as a solicitor’s clerk and both his sons were clerks in an insurance agency. The Snell family lived at East End Villa, on East End Road, Finchley, some six miles further northwest, where the population was less than 12,000.
Ten years later, in 1891, the couple had become what we now term “empty nesters,” who lived with a servant in a terrace house at 51 Weston Park, Hornsey, Middlesex, now part of Crouch End. Augustus again stated his occupation as shorthand clerk.
As the century came to the close, Augustus and Jane left Middlesex for retirement in a cottage in the Essex countryside. Augustus died 20 December, 1906. The probate record of his Will reads “Snell, Augustus Frederick of Fairview Cottage, Ashington, Rochford, Essex….Probate London, 28 January, to Jane Snell, widow. Effects £294 12s. 6d.” Jane lived until 5 July, 1911, also dying in Ashingdon.
The couple’s elder son, Thomas, spent his working life as an insurance clerk. He married Kate Strathon, who was born in about 1860 in Plymouth, Devon, and by her had two daughters: Dorothy Strathon (1892-1971) and Winifred Mary (1894-1972).
In 1891, Thomas and Kate lived at 3 Arthur Villas, Belle Vue Road, Friern Barnet, Middlesex, but by 1894 they moved to 77 Victoria Road, Stroud Green, Hornsey, near his parents. By 1901, Thomas and family lived in Walthamstow at 17 Avon Street; by 1911, after his parents’ deaths, the Snells moved to 71 Fishpond Road, Hitchin, Hertfordshire. Thomas died there 12 February, 1944. His will was probated at Llandudno to his nephew Edmund (see below) on 21 March of that year, with effects of £800 16s. 7p.
The Snell’s second son Charles married Lillian Helen Miller (1866-1892), the daughter of Henry Miller, on 2 May, 1891, at St. Peter, Hammersmith. They had a son, Edmund Norie Snell (1892-1984), whose birth appears to have caused his mother’s death. Charles married again at age 35, in 1894, on the Isle of Wight, to Agnes Jefferd. With her, he had two more children: Marjorie Norah Muriel (1895-1983) and William Frederick Aubrey (1899-1962). Charles eventually became an insurance broker and died in Saltford, Somerset, 27 April, 1920. His Will was probated on 9 July, with effects of £878 15s.
“The said Elizabeth Snell lived and cohabited and frequently committed adultery with the said George Blagrave Snell at No. 4 Grafton Road, Holloway in the county of Middlesex.”
Augustus’s younger brother, Walter Snell, married Elizabeth Colebrook (1843-1899) on 19 June, 1864, in St. Peters, Walworth, Surrey. She was the daughter of Thomas and Eleanor Colebrook—he, an omnibus conductor according to the 1851 Census of St. Mary Paddington; a butcher according to the 1861 Census of same; and a gentleman according to the couple’s marriage record.
For a time Walter and Elizabeth lived in Aberdeen Place, Maida Vale, then the 1871 Census placed them at 155 Holloway Road, Islington. Walter, aged 32, was an architect and surveyor. The couple had a daughter, Ellen Maria, born 13 December, 1867.
What happened next was told in Walter Snell’s solicitor’s words, delivered to Her Majesty’s Court for Divorce and Matrimonial Causes on 16 April, 1873: “On diverse occasions in the months of July, August, September, and October One Thousand Eight Hundred and Seventy Two, the said Elizabeth Snell committed adultery with the said George Blagrave Snell [Walter’s first cousin, the son of his eponymous uncle] at your petitioner’s residence No. 155 Holloway Road aforesaid. That in the month of October One Thousand Eight Hundred and Seventy Two, the said Elizabeth Snell lived and cohabited and frequently committed adultery with the said George Blagrave Snell at No. 4 Grafton Road, Seven Sisters Road, Holloway in the county of Middlesex.
“That from on or about the nineteenth of October…up to the date of this petition, the said Elizabeth Snell has lived and cohabited and frequently committed adultery with the said George Blagrave Snell at No. 10 Vorley Terrance, Junction Road, Highgate in the County of Middlesex.” The solicitors concluded, “Your petitioner claims from the said George Blagrave Snell as damages in respect of the said adultery the sum of one thousand pounds.”
The judge ordinary in this case, after hearing from counsel on both sides, made a decision that the case would go to trial so “that the questions of fact arising from the pleadings in this cause be tried…and the damages assessed by verdict of a Common Jury…and further ordered that the respondent and corespondent be at liberty to file their answers to the petition filed in this suit.”
The trial, with all the juicy detail it would have produced, appears never to have occurred. On 28 November, 1873, Walter Snell’s solicitors filed “draft questions and questions for the jury, set the cause down for the trial and filed notice.” Early the next year, on 5 February, the solicitors issued a subpoena ad testificandum (subpoena ad test), a court summons to appear and give oral testimony for use at a hearing or trial. Another subpoena was issued on 11 February. The next entry is for 9 June, when once again, a subpoena ad test was issued. About fortnight later, a decree nisi was made. The final divorce decree was issued 12 January, 1875.
George Blagrave Snell, Jr., was married when he began his affair with Elizabeth. Emily Maria Pile (1835-1917) had become his bride 23 years before, on 18 July, 1850. By 1873, they had six children living. After the divorce, the 1881 Census placed George and Elizabeth cohabitating as husband and wife in a respectable lodging house at 9 Cunningham Place, Marylebone, London, run by the daughters of Marmaduke R. Langdale, formerly of Madras, East Indies. Meanwhile, George’s legal wife, Emily Snell, was running a large boarding house at 32 Bedford Place, St. George, Bloomsbury. With her were two sons, Robert and Percy—the former a stock broker’s clerk and the latter a shorthand writer.
By 1891, Elizabeth Snell had taken over the Langdale’s Boarding house, but all was not well: Elizabeth was an alcoholic. She was either a drinker all along or became one after the divorce. Elizabeth died 6 January, 1899, in Saint Luke’s Hospital, Old Street, London, aged 54. The “wife of George Blagrove Snell…4 Portdown Road, Maida Vale,” expired of “alcoholic paralysis, heart failure confirmed by Wm. Rawes, Medical Superintendent, St. Luke’s,” stated her death certificate. (The term alcoholic paralysis covers a host of nervous system disorders directly resulting from the ingestion of toxic amounts of alcohol.)
Two years later, on 12 August, 1898, 69-year-old George had a daughter, Emma Florence Georgina Snell, by 20-year-old Emily Elizabeth Wright who hailed from Woolpit, Suffolk. They married 27 October, 1900, and lived in Fulham, London, in a small terrace house at 52 Harwood Road. George died on 31 October, 1910, aged 82, in Surrey. His small obituary read, in part, “Funeral to-day, 2.30, at Bramshott Cemetery. Friends kindly accept this, the only intimation.”
On 23 November, 1911, Emily gave a birth to son who she named Herbert John Anthony Snell. I cannot see a way, if the dates of George’s death and Herbert’s birth are correct, that he could have been Snell’s son. It appears that Herbert was sent to live at a Fegan’s Home for Boys and emigrated to Canada in the 1920s.
Walter Snell lived until 28 May, 1902, dying at Clarendon Lodge, Paignton, Devonshire, leaving his daughter Ellen £217 3s. 6d. She married brewery agent and widow William Parker Margetson 19 February, 1891. Although she had a number of stepchildren, Ellen gave her father but one grandchild, a son who grew up to be Major Sir Philip Margetson (1894-1985), assistant commissioner of Police of the Metropolis from 1946-1957. Ellen died on the Isle of Wight aged 92, on 31 March, 1962. Ω
Although I do not believe the author is related to the above branch of the Snell family, I came across a 1712 book titled The Art of Writing in its Theory and Practice by Charles Snell. Snell was born in 1670 and died in 1733. A font named after Snell is still in use today. Above and below are several lovely pages from the book. More can be seen here.