Friday, July 4, 2014

James Starr ~ Son of Liberty

To celebrate 4th of July I am reposting about James Starr. James was a Boston Tea Party rebel and member of the Sons of Liberty.

[Originally published November 11, 2011]

We had no idea how deep my husband's roots ran in this country. During the course of research, it became clear that every line of his family had immigrated to the United States by the mid to late 1600's.

In fact, our daughter could apply for membership to the Daughters of the American Revolution, through no less than four different lines.

Wondering if she would be interested in this particular part of her heritage, I brought up the subject one evening. Surprisingly, Starr became excited about the entire process and wanted to see where it would lead.

With that in mind I decided to focus my research on the family with the earliest links to the nation. That is when I stumbled upon James Starr, my husband's 3rd cousin 6x removed.

While reading about this ancestor, the terms "Sons of Liberty" and "Boston Tea Party" kept appearing in the hit list.

Sites referring to James Starr being a participant in this historic event are Boston Tea Party Ships & MuseumBoston Tea Party Historical Society and Old South Meeting House.

The most significant piece of information about James soon came to light. The following expert is from the Google Books title The Historic Boston Tea Party of December 16, 1773 by Caleb A. Wall, published 1896.


James Starr was a descendant in the sixth generation from Dr. Comfort Starr, one of the first settlers in Dedham in 1635. James was born in New London, Ct., May 2, 1740, being two years older than Hewes and twenty years older than Peter Slater.

He was a cooper by trade, of a strong healthy physical constitution, well qualified to endure hardships. He enlisted at 18 in the army, was in the French and Indian war in 1758, and was at Montreal when it surrendered to the British. After the war he returned to his native town of New London, Ct., went then to Boston, and then settled in Bridgewater.

Inspired by the battle cry of "freedom" as one of the Sons of Liberty, he was one of the party of "Mohawks" who threw over-board the tea in Boston Harbor on the night of Dec. 16, 1773, and loved in after years to tell the story of how, with his cooper's axe, he helped to knock open the tea chests and tip their contents into the water. At the opening of hostilities with the mother country, he enlisted for the naval service, and was taken prisoner and carried to New York, where he remained eleven months.

At the close of the war he returned to Bridgewater, sold out there in 1802 and went to Jay, Franklin Co., Me., where he remained until his death, Nov. 20, 1830, aged over 90 years.

He was grandfather of the late Wm. A.S. and Rufus L. Smythe of Worcester, their mother being his daughter. Our venerable fellow citizen Wm. E. Starr, now in his 83rd year, is a descendant of Dr. Comfort Starr through another line. A daughter of Wm. A.S. Smythe is wife of A.L.D. Buxton, residing at 50 Cedar street, Worcester.

Sounds like James was quite the rebel!

I would like to thank The Massachusetts Historical Society for allowing usage of the broadsheet  used in the post. When I emailed the society to ask for permission they quickly replied:

"The Massachusetts Historical Society is always pleased when bloggers are interested in the material made available on our website. Whether you quote the document or use the image available online, we only ask that you link back to the image/text quotation on the MHS web page so that readers of your blog will be able to source the material correctly."

Happy 4th of July!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

August Eck, Baltimore Steeple Jack

August Louis Eck
husband of 2nd great-grand aunt, Catherine Judd
b. 02/03/1863 - Baltimore, Maryland
d. 03/08/1940 - Newark, New Jersey

Recently I discovered an interesting article about August L. Eck. The story was featured in the Baltimore Sun Newspaper, April 3, 1903, pg. 8, Baltimore, Maryland. The following is a transcription of the article.

"Mr. August L. Eck, Scales Washington Monument

WEIGHT GIVEN 285 POUNDS

Lightning Rod on The Figure Needed A New Cap-Perilous Feat Attracts Large Crowd.

"I'll tell you boys, that's a pull, and it's winded me," said August L. Eck, a professional steeple jack, who climbed the statue on the Washington Monument at noon yesterday in order to replace on the lightning rod a cap which had been burnt away some weeks ago. He stood on the shoulders of the statue as he spoke, his arms spread over the crown of the Father of his Country, his head bent on Washington's arm. He addressed a half dozen men who stood on the platform at the top of the column and about 20 feet below him.

The climb gave the spectators several distinct shivers. Mr. Eck weighs 285 pounds, and though his muscles are not trained as those of an athlete, they are tremendous. He is 6 feet 2 inches in his stockings. He has climbed the statue for like work before and has also mounted other places just as high. He explained while waiting at the base of the shaft that this climb was especially difficult because the only aid given were the lightning rod and crannies made in the stone by the curves of the figures and the folds of the mantle. But he was very cool.

Once on the platform he removed his hat, coat, vest, and shoes, and drawing a pair of coarse woolen socks over those he already wore, tied a piece of heavy rope about his body. For one giddy instant he stood on the railing of the platform, then mounted a stepladder far enough to give him a handhold on the step-like arrangement at the foot of the statue. For a minute his legs swung in the air as he squirmed upon the steps. The rest of the ascent seemed easy to those below, though it consisted of Mr. Eck drawing himself up by the slender lightning rod.

The return was more exciting. Mr. Eck threw the rope around the head of the statue as an auxiliary to the rod, but searching for a foothold without his eyes to direct him was dangerous. Several times the feet sought a slippery spot and the spectators below shouted a warning. Once the leg was seized with a nervous shaking which boded ill for the climber. Had he fallen he would have dropped 204 feet to the ground. When he finally reached the steps again, he sat there for five minutes regaining his breath and exclaiming to the people below, "I tell you boys, I ain't as young as I was 10 years ago."

One man attempted a witticism on this, but the others said that, in the nature of the case, he was out of order. Then the ladder was placed with its feet on the rail and Mr. Eck came back to the platform and made himself presentable. He seemed as cool as before he went up. The climb had taken about 20 minutes.

Several hundred persons watched the work from Mount Vernon Square. When told that Mr. Eck was paid $25 for the job one man exclaimed: "Well, I wouldn't do it if they gave me all I could see from the place."

Mr. Eck is 40 years old and lives at 106 North Ann Street. He is a former member of the City Fire Department and lost his right eye in the Sharp street fire, when he fell five stories with a number of others and was the only one hauled out of the ruins alive. It is said that he was just about to take his own life in despair when rescued.

He began steeple climbing in 1878 when a weather vane on Camden Station was out of order. Once in Tennessee in 1884 he feel 81 feet and escaped without breaking a bone. He says he is usually affected by nausea for several hours after such a climb."

To learn more about steep-climbing read "Careers if Danger and Daring" by Cleveland Moffett, published 1908.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Wedding Wednesday ~ Bride wore Irish Lace


Wedding portrait
Charles Eck
(1st cousin 3x removed)
Mary Edna Pearl Terry
(on back of photograph)
The bride's dress was dark green with Irish Lace
June 23, 1906
Baltimore, Maryland


Marriage record 
Charles Eck, age 25, resides in Baltimore, Maryland
Edna M.P. Terry, age 22, resides in Baltimore, Maryland
Minister - Edwin E. Ide

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Mapping the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904


Ever wonder if an ancestor was connected to historic events? Natural disaster? Epidemic?

Growing up in Maryland everyone knew about the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904. Our elders told tales of how it started and spread.

I knew all four of my grandparents resided in Baltimore during this time-frame. Depending on the path of the flames, could they have perished?

I started wondering how close family members resided to the disaster. Did they have to evacuate? Could they see the flames?

To answer these questions I created a map.

 Baltimore Street Map, 1905
click to enlarge for better viewing

With the 1900 United States Federal Census and 1904 Baltimore City Directory, I was able to locate the following ancestors.

The red circles represent the fire zones. Blue box identifies the Jones Falls. Family members resided as follows:

* Barbara Jihlan - (2nd great-grandmother) - 519 N. Maderia St - gray circle
* Charles F. Wakfield - (great-grandfather) - 605 N. Collington Ave - green circle
* August Eck (husband of 2nd great-grand aunt Catherine Judd) - 106 N. Ann St - orange circle
* Norman S. Gaphardt, Sr. (great-grandfather) - 608 Montford Ave - purple circle

As you see, most of these ancestors lived east of the disaster. Accounts detail the fire progressing in their direction. Heading towards the Jones Falls.

From local newspapers we learn the following:

"Monday, 12 noon
...The only hope of saving East Baltimore was the Jones Falls. Thus a fire department stand was established along the east side of the Falls. Starting around 11 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. nine engines from New York City, along with two more engines from Wilmington, were placed along the Jones Falls. A total of 37 steam fire engines took water from the Falls from Baltimore Street south and established a wall of water to halt the advancing flames. "

It worked! The fire was stopped! Prevented from heading to a heavily populated part of Baltimore. Just think, there for a few blocks, my family history could have been greatly altered.

Did your ancestor reside in Baltimore during the "Great Fire"? Any other such events in your family history? Map it!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

In Search of the Springer Fortune

My favorite part of family history is finding secrets and scandals. So much fun discovering scallywags, extra spouses, and occasional criminals hanging out in the tree. Fascinating gems to share.


My mother-in-law regaled us with tales of the "Springer Fortune". An outrageous story of hidden treasures passed down through generations. My husband was sure a chest full of booty sat waiting for Springer ancestors.

Our children loved hearing this story. They encouraged us to find their inheritance! Dreams of Ipods, fast cars and extravagant trips danced in their heads.

Believing this was just a family legend, I did a cursory search. Imagine my surprise when this bit of lore was true! Well, sort of.

I came across the following article from August 15, 1871 in the New York Times.


The Trouble in Store for Wilmington Land-Holders
From the St. Catherine's (Ont) Times, Aug. 11

It seems the greater SPRINGER family are likely to become suddenly rich. The lawyers are at present "working up" a case which, when successfully concluded, will give the heirs of the late CHARLES CHRISTOPHER SPRINGER, great-grandfather to MOSES SPRINGER, M. P. P. for North Waterloo, a legacy of about $90,000,000-not a bad "take", as printers would say. It appears that this CHARLES C. SPRINGER was a native of the State of Delaware, where he had large possessions. Something over 100 years ago he leased 800 acres of land to the Episcopal Church there for a term of ninety-nine years, after which it was to fall back to his legal heirs. This land now comprises the greater part of the city of Wilmington, and is of very great value. The way it happened to pass into private hands we understand is as follows: The trustees of this trust, seeing that the family had been scattered by the troublous times of the Revolution, some of whom being loyalists came to Canada, illegally sold the estate and left for Europe. The heirs are quite numerous in Canada, many of them quite well to do, and they have undertaken to investigate the matter before the United States Supreme Court. From what we hear the matter is assuming a practical, clear and plausible shape. While we admit that a matter of this kind may cause numerous hardships to those who imagine they are real estate owners, and perhaps, have the earnings of a life-time invested in this way, we must congratulate our old friend in North Waterloo, and his numerous relatives, on the bright prospect of becoming millionaires. We are sure they will make good use of the money when it comes, which can't be said of many who become suddenly rich.

Was there a family fortune? Springer Hoax?

Wikipedia has the following entry about the subject:

"The Springer Hoax was a scam starting in the mid 19th century, often using a phony genealogy in various ways to collect money based on the supposed estate of prominent colonialist Carl Christopher/Christoffersson Springer and debts said to be owed to him by various government agencies of Wilmington, Delaware and Stockholm, Sweden. The alleged estate was said to include 1,900 acres of land, 228 acres of which ran though the center of Wilmington, worth up to $150,000,000. Other claims included $100,000,000 deposited in a Stockholm bank."

Further reading about the hoax:

Delaware, a guide to the First State, published 1938

Rootsweb: Springer Hoax

"Springer Estate" Papers (aka Springer Heir Hoax) from the Springer, Miller & Allied Families Website

No great fortune unearthed. Drats! Just a very interesting bit of family history. Do you have a tale of fortune and treasure?