Tuesday, January 28, 2014

52 Ancestors- #4 Lydia Catherine (Davis) Fittshur Rockwell

Lydia & the Mysterious Tale of Two Josephs

Lydia was the beloved grandmother of my Grandma Eva Jane Mapes.
My great-great grandmother, Lydia Catherine Davis, was born on April 10th, 1825 at Charleston, Montgomery County, New York. It appears that she was the second of six children born to John D. and Gertrude "Gitty" (Smith) Davis.

 I don't know much about her early life in New York, first finding her at the age of 25 on the 1850 census, living at Esperance with her brothers Charles (and his new wife Hannah) and Latron, and sister Mary. Esperance is about 5 miles from Charleston, where her parents were listed with their youngest daughter, Susan. 

Interestingly, Charles is listed as a "ferryman". Esperance is located on Schoharie Creek, the site of the Erie Canal. The canal originally crossed the creek in a slack water pool that was created by a dam, which can be seen when the water is low, further down the creek. Boats would then be towed across while mules and horses were ferried. A towpath bridge was later built to help mules cross but the boats still had to make the dangerous crossing. Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site is one of the only sites where the Original Erie Canal remains.

The next year, on 30 November 1851, Lydia was married to Joseph Fittshur at Sloanesville (about 4 miles from Charleston). Their first child, Leroy P. Fittshur, was born about 2 years later, in New York. A daughter, Jane, was born on 3 September 1855, either in New York or Illinois. Their third child, my great-grandmother Josephine, was born on 17 July 1858 in Forestville, Door County, Wisconsin.

Joseph has been a mystery to me, evading all my efforts to find him in any records. He seemed to appear out of nowhere, and would later disappear as completely. 

However, recent discoveries at Ancestry.com might shed some light. I found two newspaper articles naming Joseph Fittshur: 

  • The first is a Nov. 20, 1852 notice for "House and Lot for Sale" at Bloomville, New York (about 50 miles from Charleston). 
  • The second notice, dated Nov. 20, 1854, contains Joseph Fittshur's name on a list of letters left unclaimed in the Post Office at Bloomville.
  • Third is the newly released 1855 New York State census, where there is listed a Joseph and Lydia Davis, ages 40 and 30, living at Watertown, Jefferson County, New York. They had been residents of the county for just one year. Living in their household is a 7 year old girl named Harriet Henderson, listed as "servant", and born in Jefferson County. Leroy is not listed, so I don't know if this is the wrong family or if he is living elsewhere at this time. Jefferson County is in the northwest corner of the state, and is in the right direction for a westward migration. Lydia would have been been about 6 months pregnant with daughter Jane, so may have needed the help of a young "servant". 

Also unknown is what brought them to Wisconsin, and up the Ahnapee River from Lake Michigan to the what would become Forestville. Lydia is listed in Martin's "History of Door County", page 47, as an early pioneer of the village, arriving in the fall of 1856, when she opened the first tailor shop in the village, if not the county. On July 17th, 1858 their youngest daughter Josephine was born. 

The next  we hear of Lydia is on July 12, 1861, when she filed for Door County's first divorce:

EARLY DOOR COUNTY DIVORCE CASES (Abstracted by Sally Treichel). 
1861- July 12 (File 1)

FITTSHUER, Lydia - vs- FITTSHUER, Joseph. Married 30 Nov. 1851 at Sloanesville, Schonnactedy, New York. Her name before marriage was L.C. DAVIS.  3 children: Leroy- 8 yrs. old last Jan. 15; Jane- 5 yrs. old last Sept. and Josephine- 3 yrs. old on the 17 of this month (July). They came to Door Co. the spring or summer of 1856, settling in Town of Forestville. He deserted her on March 1, 1860. On Aug. 16, 1860 he burned his house and left the state after threatening to shoot her. His whereabouts are unknown.

Who was Joseph, and why did he desert his family and threaten to shoot Lydia? What became of him?

What I do know is that Lydia remarried, to one of Forestville's earliest settlers, Nathan Harrison Rockwell, from Connecticut. Their son, also named Nathan "Harrison", was born on November 12, 1866.

Lydia and Harrison had each purchased several tracts of land that he farmed in the township of Forestville. One of these parcels is of particular interest to me, and it involves another reference to a Joseph Davis:

  • 1 Mar 1858- "Joseph Davis, of Door County, Wisconsin" claimed 80 acres of Homestead land from The United States of America according to provision for the sale of Public Lands.
  • 13 Apr 1860- This property was sold at auction for non-payment of taxes to the County of Door for $4.35, and resold to Lydia Fittshur for same amount. 
  • 10 Jun 1861- "John and Gitty Davis of Montgomery County, NY" sold to "Lydia C. Fittschur of Forestville, Door County, Wisconsin" this same parcel of land (Quitclaim Deed). 
According to Wikipedia, quitclaim deeds are most often used to transfer property between family members, as gifts or other special circumstances. Another common use for a quitclaim deed is in the case of divorce. They may also be used in tax deed sales.

I wondered who Joseph Davis was, and how this property came into the possession of Lydia's parents in New York, and why they were deeding it back to her. Were Joseph Fittshur and Joseph Davis the same person? Did he lose the property, and Lydia buy it back, perhaps with the aid of her parents in New York? 

My suspicion that Joseph Davis is an alias for Joseph Fittshur stems partly from the timing of these various incidents:

  • The Joseph and Lydia Davis entry on the 1855 New York census, living in Watertown.
  • The original purchase by Joseph Davis was made a year and a half after Joseph and Lydia came to Forestville. 
  • It was sold for non-payment of taxes, and purchased by Lydia a month after she was abandoned by her husband, Joseph Fitthsur. 
  • The quitclaim deed between John and Gitty Davis and Lydia was finalized 10 days after she filed for divorce.

Lydia & daughter Josephine

A Woman of Strength 

Lydia impresses me as being a woman of great internal strength. Abandoned, then threatened by her estranged husband, she was left to raise their three children. According to her daughter Josephine, "she opened the area's first tailor shop and made clothing many a night by the light of tallow candles...Those were the days when women folks spent their spare time evenings in carding wool by hand with light of a dip (a piece of string in tallow) and spinning the wool on a big wheel the next day. If fibers of the wool were short, a small spinning wheel was used. A pair of stockings took two evenings to knit and sold for 30 cents." You can see her large, strong hands in the photo above.

"From Forestville the Fittshur family moved to the community of Tornado and were there during the devastating fire of 1871. They saved themselves by using a wet blanket at the mill pond." (Account by daughter Josephine).

The summer of 1871 was extremely hot and dry. On Sunday, October 8, the largest forest fire in the recorded history of North America swept through northeastern Wisconsin and Upper Michigan. It fed on the dry underbrush left behind in clearing the forest. Several smaller fires merged and the winds changed directions, creating a "tornado of fire" that took between 1,200 and 2,400 lives, and left 1,500 homeless. The wind carried embers across Green Bay to ignite Door County. 

The same conditions caused the famous Chicago Fire on the same day, which killed 250. National news was filled with stories of the Chicago Fire, but not much attention was given to the Peshtigo Fire because it was a small, isolated frontier town, and the single telegraph line and office were destroyed. 

Obituary for son Leroy
Eleven years later, on 14 Dec 1882, Lydia lost her son Leroy when he was killed in a terrible saw mill accident. He was only 28, and left a wife and daughter, as well as an unborn son.

Ten years after this loss, Lydia's second husband, N.H. Rockwell, died 12 July 1892 at the age of 78. Lydia was 68. 

Lydia's page in daughter Josephine's autograph book
She lived the remainder of her life with her son Harrison and his family in Forestville. On 1 Dec 1916, the Door County Democrat reported, "Mrs. N.H. Rockwell, the oldest living settler of this town and over 90 years of age, was reported seriously ill on Monday but at present is gaining slowly."


"Grandma Rockwell" died of old age on 18 Jun 1917, age 92, and was buried at the Forestville Town Cemetery in Maplewood, Wisconsin.

Obituary for Lydia Rockwell

Headstone for Lydia C. Rockwell

No comments:

Post a Comment