Long Letters Home

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.

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Albert Berthoud Root, Cabinet Card Copy of Original Daguerreotype, Circa 1850. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

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.”

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Marinda Boyden Root, Cabinet Card Copy of Original Daguerreotype of Circa 1850. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

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.”

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The bounty coat that Marinda’s grandfather received for his Revolutionary War service probably was similar to, albeit less embellished than, this extant example worn in 1777 by Colonel Peter Gansevoort, Jr., of the 3rd Regiment of the New York Continental Line. Courtesy Smithsonian Museum.

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.

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An early 20th Century postcard of the old main gate of Wellsboro Cemetery in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania.

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.

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A circa-1910 postcard of the Main Street of Wellsboro, Pennsylvania. Marinda, who died in 1899, would certainly have recognized it.

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.

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The Wellsboro Cemetery gravestone of Julius C. Root, youngest son of Albert and Marinda, who died of consumption as a young man. Photo by TSOtime.

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 [18]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.

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Albert Root’s obituary.

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.”

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Atchison, Kansas, during the time the Roots were newspapermen there.

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.”

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Bartholomew Brothers Outfitting Store, Gunnison, Colorado, 1880. Frank Root would almost certainly have visited this retail hub of the nascent town.

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.

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A postcard of Atchison, Kansas, as the Roots knew it in about 1912.

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 [18]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.”

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Frank Root in old age, from his book, The Overland Stage to California.

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

2640

Mother of Glory: Avis Burr Wooster

“And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

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Avis Burr Wooster, 1/4th-plate daguerreotype, circa 1851. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

The above daguerreotype, which includes a 20th-Century handwritten note indicating it was once held in the collection of the Ossining, New York Historical Society, shows Avis Burr Wooster in about the fifty-fifth year of her life.

Avis was born on 26 May, 1796, in Southbury, New Haven County, Connecticut, in the ember glow of a hot century that had seen Connecticut change from a British colony to a sovereign state inside a new nation. By the time the Revolution exploded, Southbury was already a venerable place, having been established on land bought from the Paugusset tribe in 1659. The area remains much as it was in Avis’s day: rural, agricultural, quiet.

The Burr family’s transplantation to the New World was courtesy of Jehue Burr, born in about 1605, who sailed with Governor Winthrop to Roxbury, Massachusetts, in 1630. Jehue eventually removed to Fairfield, Connecticut, and planted the seeds of a lineage that would include the noted vice president and unfortunate dualist Aaron Burr. Avis’s line was through Jehue’s son Nathaniel (1635-1712) to Avis’s great-great-grandfather Colonel John Burr (1673-1750) to her great-grandfather Captain John Burr (1698-1752) to her grandfather of the same name and rank (1728-1771), who married Eunice Booth (abt. 1728-bef. 1786) circa 1750.

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Southbury, Connecticut, from the air. Photo courtesy of the Southbury website.

Avis’s father, William Burr (23 June, 1762-28 Jan., 1841), lost his own father tragically when he was less than ten years old. According to the parish record of Stratfield, on 28 July, 1771, “Capt. John Burr, a farmer, son of…John Burr, was killed by lightning at the old Pequonnock meeting-house…. The congregation was standing in prayer. Parson Rose stopped praying, and after a pause he uttered the following words, ‘Are we all here?’ When the congregation moved out it was found that David Sherman and John Burr were dead. They were both in the prime of life, with families (the very pick of the flock). There was no rod on the steeple at that time.”

A mere five years thereafter, when the Revolution began, teenaged William Burr joined the Connecticut Militia, enlisting on 1 April, 1776. His pension files, included in the tome Revolutionary War Records of Fairfield, Connecticutindicate that his postings were many and varied, and that he served for a time as a substitute for another man, Andrew Curtiss. One of Burr’s postings was to the “Battery at Black Rock,” or Black Rock Fort in New Haven, later Fort Nathan Hale. The Connecticut Sons of the American Revolution note, “Fort Hale is situated upon an insulated rock, two miles from the end of Long Wharf, New Haven…. The Americans [had] a battery of three guns upon this point, which greatly annoyed the enemy when landing.” Many years later, Aaron Turney of Fairfield attested that in 1779, Burr was 1st sergeant at the battery and second-in-command under Captain Jarvis. Burr appears to have left military service sometime in 1780.

Having reached manhood during the fight for independence, Burr beat his sword into a plowshare, marrying Sarah Hubbell (1770-1857), the daughter of Jeremiah (1725-1801) and Sarah (1724-1775) Hubbell, on 23 November, 1786. The above-cited pension records include testimony by friend Aner Wheeler, who was “born and lived in Sarah’s neighborhood, and knew her from childhood,” that she “saw William Burr and Sarah Hubbell married in Huntington in the fall of 1786” by Congregational Minister Rev. Elisha Rexford.

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The gravestones of Avis Burr’s parents, William and Sarah, at Southford Cemetery, Oxford, New Haven County, Connecticut. Photo by Steven Smith.

The couple was blessed with a multitude of children whose names and dates of birth were presented by Sarah Hubbell Burr during her attempts to gain a pension increase and land bounty based on her husband’s service. Although it may at first seem tedious to list them, doing so illustrates the spacing between infants that was either natural to, or practiced by this American family, and is illustrative of the sibling maelstrom in which Avis Burr was raised: Alvan (1788); Abigail (1790); Sally (1792); Betsey (1794); Avis (1797); Olive (1800); George (1803); Erastus (1805); Eliza (1808); Harry (1811); and William, Jr. (1814).

As is sadly the case with bygone women, there is little to fill the story of Avis’s days until 15 November, 1820, when she married farmer Russell Wooster (b. 25 April, 1791) in Southbury. Wooster was the son of Joseph Wooster (abt. 1743-1819) and Hannah Woodruff (abt. 1755-1835). He was descended from the early immigrant Edward Wooster, born in 1622 in Cheddington, Buckinghamshire, who became the first permanent settler of Derby, Connecticut, and died there 8 July, 1689.

Whilst running a prosperous farm (the value of the real estate was $6,000 in 1870), Russell and Avis had four children: William Burr  (1821-1900); Cynthia Cordelia (21 Dec., 1824-17 Aug., 1868); Samuel R. (22 April, 1830-5 Feb., 1906); and Avis Amanda (1839-1889).

Avis’s eldest daughter Cynthia—whose strong resemblance to her mother is evident in the photo below—married Thomas Merwin Downs (15 July, 1823-19 Feb., 1874) on New Year’s Day 1845. Downs, also pictured below, was the son of Henry Downs and Sarah Ann Botsford. He was listed on the 1850 Census as a farmer, and on both the 1860 and 1870 censuses as a “laborer.” By the latter enumeration, two years after his wife’s death, he had amassed $5,500 in real estate and $3,000 in personal wealth. The couple had three children: Imogene Amanda (5 Sept., 1847-12 May, 1881), Wilber Russell, and Avis Elena (b. abt. 1866-aft. 1931). The circumstances of Cynthia Wooster Downs’s death are unknown, but she was buried in Pine Grove Cemetery, Ansonia, Connecticut. Her husband would remarry, but have no further offspring.

Avis and Russell’s second daughter Amanda lived with Cynthia’s widow Merwin, presumably undertaking the duty of replacement mother for her sister’s children until Merwin married again. She left the Downs’ residence by 1872, when she wed the widowed Joseph White Naramore (1827-1898), the son of William White Naramore and Mary Lyman. Naramore’s first wife, Amelia Wallace, died in 1870. Naramore listed his profession in 1860 as a machinist and in 1870 and 1880 a pin maker with $5,000 in real estate and $2,000 in personal property.

Amanda and Joseph had two daughters: Amelia Wooster (b. 1874) and Harriet Avis (b. 1875). Harriet never married and remained her mother’s companion all her life. Amelia married Harrison Abram Cornell, Jr., a fire insurance agent in Ossining, New York. They had three children: Marguerite E. Cornell (1901-1940); Joseph Naramore Cornell (b. 1904); and Greta A. Cornell (1911-1997). As was noted at the start of this article, my daguerreotype of Avis Burr Wooster was formerly in the collection of the Ossining Historical Society, and by this connection that mystery is solved: one of the Cornells certainly made the original donation.

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Amanda’s memorial stone in Oak Cliff Cemetery, Derby, Connecticut. Photo by Randal Ritter.

Joseph Naramore died in 1898 in Derby, and was laid to rest at Oak Cliff Cemetery beside his first wife. In 1900, Amanda and Harriet were living with her brother Dr. Samuel Wooster, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. By 1910, Samuel had passed away and Amanda and Harriet returned to Connecticut. Twenty years later, the 1930 Census found the pair living in Park Street. Amanda died in 1933, aged 96, the last survivor of Avis and Russell Wooster’s brood. Harriet died in Hamden, Connecticut, 6 December, 1957, and is also buried in Oak Cliff.

“Surgeons operated with dirty hands, going from one patient to the next without proper washing or cleaning instruments and dressings.”

Avis and Russell’s youngest son Samuel, was a graduate of Yale Medical College, New Haven. In 1857, he removed to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where “he built up a good practice, due in a great measure to his genial disposition as well as to his exceptional professional ability,” wrote Ernest B. Fisher in Grand Rapids and Kent County, Michigan: A Historical Account of their Progress from First Settlement to Present Time.

On 1 June, 1858, Wooster married Josephine Ella Godfroy, who was born 28 February, 1837, in Michigan, to Detroit native Richard Godfroy and his Canadian wife Anne Lewis. Samuel and Josephine had one daughter, Louise D. Wooster, born in January 1860.

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Dr. Samuel R. Wooster, circa 1861.

During the Civil War, Samuel Wooster was first attached as an assistant surgeon to the 8th Michigan 8th Volunteer Infantry, which, according to the unit’s Record of Service, was mustered 23 September, 1861, in Detroit.

With the regiment, Wooster saw service as part of Sherman’s Expeditionary Corps, including “a severe engagement with the enemy on Wilmington Island [and] at Secessionville on James Island, the regiment distinguished itself by a bayonet charge upon the enemy’s works, and though their ranks were swept by the enemy’s artillery, not a gun was fired until the parapet was reached.” The cost of this gallant rush on the Union side, noted the 8th’s record of service, was 13 dead, 98 wounded, 35 taken prisoner, and 36 missing.

Wooster saw the injured as they were offloaded at a wayside surgery that was hastily established. The soldiers were triaged in order to save those who had a real chance. This would become the process during the major conflagrationary battles of the war in which Wooster was a surgeon, including Bull Run, South Mountain, and Antietam, to name the most famous scenes of carnage—as well as many smaller, bloody affairs across a wide swath of nation busily consuming its own.

The noted Stanley B. Burns, MD, wrote in Surgery in the Civil War, “Military surgeons learned to amputate and perform a wide variety of procedures as they were actively engaged in conflicts…. Few were mentally or physically prepared, on either side, for what was to come.” Unfortunately, sterilization was unknown and unpracticed, and those who might otherwise have survived perished of post-operative infections. “Surgeons operated with dirty hands, going from one patient to the next without proper washing or cleaning instruments and dressings. Knives were often held in the mouth and sutures were wet with saliva,” Burns noted.

Another Union surgeon, Zabdiel Boylston Adams of the 32nd Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, a graduate of Harvard Medical School, is the only medical officer to be honored on Gettysburg battlefield. “On the afternoon of July 2, 1863, the doctor set up a rude field hospital close to the line of battle. (One flat rock that was used as a surgical table is still there.) Adams had noticed how many soldiers were dying during transport from combat to distant medical care. Because he began treating patients so quickly and near the fighting, the 1895 plaque reads ‘many of our wounded escaped capture or death,’” noted his great-grandson Mitchell L. Adams during a lecture covered by the Harvard Review. “Adams…labored so long in surgeries at Gettysburg—up for two days and three nights—that he was blind with exhaustion. In 1864, he was severely wounded at the Battle of the Wilderness and captured by Confederate forces. His left leg shattered, he lingered untreated for weeks. Gangrene set in, but Adams treated himself by pouring pure nitric acid into the wound.”

After serving with the 8th Massachusetts, Samuel Wooster was commissioned as a full surgeon with the Michigan 1st Calvary, into which he mustered 11 April, 1863. He rose to the position of brigade surgeon in July of that year while on duty at General George Custer’s headquarters. He was made surgeon-in-chief of the 2nd Michigan Volunteer Brigade from 15 September, 1863, then was appointed an acting staff surgeon by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. During this final posting, Wooster served in field and hospital practice, the Grand Rapids and Kent County, Michigan: A Historical Account states.

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The mausoleum vault of Samuel and Josephine Wooster. Photo by Mike Cronk.

After the war, Wooster practiced for a time in Muskegon, but returned to Grand Rapids in 1871. In 1874, he was one of Kent County’s two coroners, a city physician and health officer of Grand Rapids in 1880, and president of the Kent County Medical Society in 1889.

By 1900, Samuel, Josephine, and Louise lived with his sister Amanda Wooster Naramore and niece Harriett at 165 Jefferson Street, Grand Rapids. A few years later, on 1 June, 1905, at age of 45, Louise Wooster married William Cary, who was employed by a local glass factory.

In one of Fate’s weird twists, Dr. Samuel Wooster died 5 February, 1906, during an operation for chronic cystitis that sent him into shock. He was aged 75 years, nine months, and 16 days. The old doctor was buried in the mausoleum at Graceland Memorial Park and Mausoleum, Grand Rapids. Josephine died 20 November, 1922, after a fracture of her right hip, and was buried in the vault with her husband. Their daughter Louise died 12 March, 1950, aged 90.

“He believed in abolition, and led his troops with the idea uppermost in mind that the war would result in the abolition of slavery.”

The Wooster’s eldest son, William, began his life “until early manhood…following the plow and tilling the soil upon his father’s farm, teaching school in the surrounding districts during the winter months,” wrote John W. Storrs in the Twentieth Connecticut: A Regimental History.

Wooster had been educated at the South Britain Academy and later Yale Law School, after which he was admitted to the bar in 1846. As the 1850s progressed and his law career grew successful, his thoughts turned to politics: In 1858, he was elected to the Connecticut House of Representatives from the town of Derby, and in 1859 he was voted to the Connecticut Senate; in 1861, he returned to the Connecticut House. “In politics he has been a Republican from the outset, and the honesty and uprightness of his political views have been exemplified in every step of his career,” noted the Illustrated Popular Biography of Connecticut.

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Colonel William Burr Wooster

William Wooster was a strong abolitionist and he viewed the war as a righteous blow to end slavery, but he was also unsure that he was fit to command men. Almost year after his younger brother had joined up, William had not gone into uniform. At last, in early September 1862, he received a commission as lieutenant colonel of the 20th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Together, this group “left behind them the green hills of their fathers, left with them also their mothers, their wives, their children, and sweethearts with heroic bosoms swelling with patriotic devotion…. But alas! with a very inadequate idea as to what was to be the cost thereof,” Storrs lamented.

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Libby Prison, Richmond, Virginia, 1865. Photo courtesy U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

During in early May 1863, Wooster was in command of the 20th Connecticut during the disastrous Battle of Chancellorsville in Spotsylvania County, Virginia—an engagement during which “two horses were shot out from under him and his sword taken,” reported the Ansonia Valley Post. He was captured and sent to Libby Prison in Richmond, the Confederate capital.

“Libby takes in the captured Federals by scores, but lets none out; they are huddled up and jammed into every nook and corner; at the bathing troughs, around the cooking stoves, everywhere there is a wrangling, jostling crowd; at night the floor of every room they occupy in the building is covered, every square inch of it, by uneasy slumberers, lying side by side, and heel to head, as tightly packed as if the prison were a huge, improbable box of nocturnal sardines,” described the Richmond Enquirer in February 1864.

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The monument to the 20th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry on Culp’s Hill, southeast of Gettysburg.

Wooster was paroled in a prisoner exchange in time to command the 20th Connecticut at Gettysburg as part of the 1st Brigade, 1st Division, 12th Corps, Army of the Potomac. The monument to the 20th Connecticut’s heroics during the three-day battle tells the tale: “The [brigade] formed on this line on the morning of July 2nd. At eve it moved to the support left of army. Returning, it found the position and woods on rear occupied by Johnson’s Division, Ewell’s Corps. During the night it lay in line of battle. At dawn, July 3rd, the 20th Conn. advanced under cover of artillery and fought 5 [hours], driving the enemy and reoccupying the works. Was relieved by the 123rd N.Y. In the afternoon moved to support the 2nd Corps against Longstreet’s assault.” The 20th Connecticut suffered the loss of 28 men and upwards of 70 wounded.

On 8 March, 1864, Wooster accepted a colonelcy with the 29th Regiment, Connecticut Volunteers, Colored, the state’s first black regiment. “He believed in abolition, and led his troops with the idea uppermost in mind that the war would result in the abolition of slavery,” noted the Illustrated Popular Biography of Connecticut. “But it required great moral courage not less than loyalty to one’s convictions, to assume the leadership of a regiment of colored men even in 1864. All honor is due to Colonel Wooster for the frankness and manliness of his course.”

When the new unit paraded in New Haven, one of the soldiers, J. J. Hill, recalled, “White and colored ladies and gentlemen grasped me by the hand, with tears streaming down their cheeks…expressing the hope that we might have a safe return.” Even so, the unit had much to fight against—not only the Confederacy, which held an estimated 4 million slaves, but also the bias and bigotry of a Northern white society skeptical that blacks could be effective soldiers.

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The 29th Connecticut Volunteers, Colored, at Beaufort, South Carolina. Photo: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

The unit went south to Virginia, where it fought admirably to capture Fort Harrison, not far from Richmond. Then, “On October 13, the regiment participated in a scouting mission which led to the Battle of the Darbytown Road, and two weeks later the men pushed the Confederate army back at the Battle of Kell House, which resulted in over 150 casualties and many captured soldiers,” states a well-researched article on the history of the regiment at Connecticut History.

Frederick Chesson of the 29th wrote of Richmond’s fall, “We began to realize as we had not till then . . . that this was one of the great days of the Lord. Right out there in the open in sight of the flaming city we went wild with excitement. We yelled, we cheered, we sang, we prayed, we wept, we hugged each other and threw up our hats.” As it would happen, Wooster and his colored 29th were the first to enter the Confederate capital—the irony must have been great.

After the Union victory, the 29th was sent to Brazos de Santiago, Texas, arriving in July, 1865. Wooster stayed until the unit was settled, then mustered out in August. A law practice back in green Connecticut beckoned. He became a partner with Wooster, Williams & Gager then paymaster general of the State of Connecticut in 1867. In later years, Wooster was president of the Derby Gas Company and the Birmingham Water Company.

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William Burr Wooster, second from left, with members of his law firm. Picture Courtesy the Derby, Connecticut, Historical Society.

At census time, 1870, William Wooster, aged 48, lived alone in an upscale rooming house in Birmingham, Connecticut, but later that year he married 37-year-old  Jemima A. Wallace, known as “Jay,” who was born in New York 11 October, 1833, daughter of the prominent industrialist and English immigrant Thomas Wallace. Her father’s company, Thomas Wallace & Sons, was founded in Ansonia in 1848 and incorporated in 1853. It produced rolled metals, drawing wire, and finished items such as library lamps until 1895.

The Woosters traveled extensively after their marriage, spending several years in Europe. William’s passport application gives us a glimpse of him at age 60: 5’6-1/2″, with a high forehead, blue eyes, a Roman nose, small mouth, medium chin, and brown hair shot with grey.

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The tombstone inscription of William Burr and Jay Wallace Wooster, Pine Grove Cemetery, Ansonia, Connecticut. Photo by Steven Smith.

On 21 September, 1900, the Ansonia Valley Post reported, “Colonel William B. Wooster died suddenly at his home…from apoplexy. He attended a Grand Army celebration in New Britain yesterday, and came home last night in his usual good health. Shortly after arising this morning he was taken ill and died within an hour.” His wife survived until 23 March, 1927.

Avis Burr Wooster, the mother who bore hero sons, herself the daughter of a revolutionary patriot, had predeceased William and Samuel by nearly twenty years, dying 17 September, 1881, aged 86. She and her husband, Russell, who died 23 April, 1877, are buried in Pine Grove Cemetery, Ansonia. I am saddened that I cannot tell her story more fully at this time and have some concerns about the latter years of her life. The 1880 census placed her at age 83 in Derby, keeping house for Ira Bliss and Emma J. (Lines) Newcomb. The connection of this couple to Avis remains unclear, as does why her two successful, wealthy sons did not house her, but this absence of facts should not impugn their characters until further research is undertaken. Ω

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The grave of Russell and Avis Wooster. Photo by Steven Smith.