Monday, February 3, 2014

52 Ancestors- #5 Josephine (Fittshur) Mapes

Josephine (Fittshur) Mapes

I was fortunate to have known my great-grandmother, Josephine. She was born 17 July 1858 in Forestville, Door County, Wisconsin, the youngest of three children of Joseph and Lydia (Davis) Fittshur. She died on 26 June 1957, just two weeks before turning 99, so she was a part of my life until I was 6. I was always fascinated by the fact that she was alive when Abraham Lincoln was president. In fact, she would have been the same age as I was at her death when President Lincoln was killed. I don't know how aware she was of what was happening in the world outside of isolated Door County, or how it impacted her family's lives, but I was impressed that one person had lived through so much of what I considered ancient history.

In retrospect, however, I realize that most people lived simple lives, concerned mainly with day-to-day survival and interactions with their family. We are used to 24-hour coverage of news events, but they relied on newspapers or letters for news of the world outside their sphere. 

Me and my Great-Grandma Mapes playing with the balloon

The Grandma Mapes I knew was a slight, white-haired little lady with a great big smile. She wore her hair up in a bun on top of her head, but I was told she had long hair which she brushed 100 strokes every night with a natural bristle brush. She was known for her wit and love of life, something which she passed down to my Grandma Clark. I remember myself as a two or three-year-old child tossing a red balloon with her. My memory may be enhanced because of a photo, but I distinctly remember the balloon being red. Of course the grandparents we know in the sunset of their lives are just one small part of who they were. 

Early Life

When Josephine was born in the young town of Forestville, two years after her family's arrival there from New York, there may already have been problems in her parents' marriage. When Josephine was less than two years old, her father deserted the family, and the next year her mother Lydia filed for Door County's first divorce:

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.
Josephine & her mother, Lydia

Josephine's mother Lydia opened a tailor shop to support her family, often working late into the night. She remarried, to one of Forestville's original settlers, Nathan Harrison Rockwell, and he helped Lydia raise Leroy, Jane and Josephine. They also had a son whom they named Nathan Harrison Rockwell, after his father. The children attended the Forestville school. 

For a time the family lived in the nearby town of Williamsonville, which was wiped off the map during the great "Tornado of fire" on 26 Oct 1871. The area of Williamsonville was renamed Tornado the following year. Josephine would later give an account to the Door County Advocate:

"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." 

Five months after the Great Fire, Josephine's sister Jane, age 16, was married to an older Forestville farmer, Charles Earle. One son was born to them before their divorce, and she married Levi Blasier. Their brother Leroy was married in January 1879. He and his young wife had one child and another on the way when he was tragically killed in a sawmill accident at the age of 29.

On 5 November 1880 Josephine, age 22, was married to 50-year-old Alfred Day Blish, a widower with six children between the ages of 7 and 17. She only remained with the family for a few months, and filed for divorce three years later on the grounds of intolerably cruel treatment of her by Alfred and his children. Josephine testified that she was "at the time she married the defendant, in delicate and feeble health which was still more impaired by the long continued abuse and the cruel and inhuman (mental and physical) treatment of the plaintiff by the deft. and his family...That such cruel and inhuman treatment...commenced shortly after the marriage and continued until March 20, 1881", when she left in order to preserve her rapidly failing health. She further testified that she heard and believed that after her being forced to leave, he had been "cohabiting with a notorious and common prostitute". Under the circumstances, she felt it would be "improper and unsafe" to return to his household.

In a letter written to his mother-in-law Lydia, Alfred charged that Josephine was "incompetent to govern" his children and should be kept under watch. He requested that Lydia make arrangements for Josephine to release any interest she might have in his property, and threatened that failure to do so would result in his divulging alleged family secrets (concerning transactions between her and her girls, and Harrison and Leroy) which would damage the good character of Josephine, her mother and others in the family. The letter was submitted as evidence, and the divorce was granted on October 23, 1883. 

Josephine & John

I am not sure what Josephine's life was like for the next eleven years, but on November 28, 1894, Josephine, age 36, married 43-year old widower, John Dony Mapes. 

Marriage Certificate from the Mapes Bible

The  following year Josephine gave birth to their son Leslie Dony, and four and a half years later a daughter, Eva Jane. By this time Josephine was 41 and John was 48. 

The Mapes family lived in Forestville, across the road from Josephine's mother, but in about 1904 moved up the peninsula to the Juddville area, where John farmed. 

In about 1912 the family learned that Lesley had Tuberculosis of the bone in his leg. It gradually worsened until it became necessary for Lesley to take a train to Chicago to have it amputated. However, there was not enough money for anyone from the family to accompany him, so he made the trip alone. I can't imagine what it must have been like for a mother to send her son off alone to face a situation like that. Unfortunately, the procedure was not able to save his life. Josephine's son died a year later at the age of 17.

Josephine & John, Leslie & Eva Mapes

Family of John & Josephine Mapes-
Leslie, John, Josephine and Eva

Josephine and John farmed in various areas of Door County until, in later life, they moved to a small house built on daughter Eva and Sanford Clark's farm. In 1930 John fell and fractured a hip, dying two weeks later. 

John & Josephine Mapes

Josephine & John with "friend"
Josephine & John Mapes


Josephine and her sister Jane were very close, and their families spent much time together while they were growing up. They loved "having their pictures made" together, and did so many times throughout the years. I have always loved looking at those pictures, and enjoy their sense of "style". 

Josephine & Jane

Jane & Josephine
Josephine & Jane
Jane's entry in Josephine's autograph book

Oldest Native-born Resident

When Josephine was 91, she won first prize in a contest sponsored by the Door County Museum as the county's "oldest native-born resident". Each year there was a follow-up article on her birthday. Below is the one commemorating her 92nd.

Josephine spent her final years at the Country House convalescent home, and maintained her wit and sense of humor to the end. The morning she died, she was still teasing the nurse.  Josephine passed away on 26 June 1957. Grandma gave me her monogrammed handkerchief because we had the same initial, "J". I also have her postcard album.


(By Mrs. Ina Barnes)
JACKSONPORT- Mrs. Josephine Mapes, who was the first prize winner in the museum-sponsored Door county "oldest native-born resident" contest last year, will observe her 92nd birthday anniversary next Monday, July 17, at the home of her daughter, Mrs. Sanford Clark, just south of jacksonport on Highway 57.

Milwaukee at 91
Mrs. Mapes was born in Forestville and has spent all her life in Door county, never having been farther south than Kewaunee until this spring when she spent two weeks in Milwaukee at the home of her grandson Frank.

While there she was "bewildered, bemused," but not bothered by the crowds on the streets, in the stores and at the zoo where she enjoyed the antics of the monkeys and all other animals. Mrs. Mapes' eyes shone with pleasure at the recollection of the good time she had, saying she wished she might have stayed longer.

Circus Rides Too!  
Always actively interested in life, she was not exhausted by the trip any more than she was by her adventure at the circus  carnival at Sunset park two years ago.

At that time, Mrs. Mapes managed to slip away from the family with her great granddaughter Gertude Kohls, for a ride on the "caterpillar".

As she expressed it, "I got the rigs on them that time. But once was enough." She enjoyed the thrill but was annoyed with Gertie for being a little scared and squealing!

When asked if she had ever been up in an airplane, Mrs. Mapes admitted that she never had but would like to "If they didn't go too high."

Although Mrs. Mapes had just two children, Mrs. Clark and a son who died at the age of 17, she has six grandchildren and eight great grandchildren.
The grandchildren are Mrs. Amelia Kohls, Clifford, Raymond, Frank, Gerald and Doris Clark. The great grandchildren are Gertie, Harold, Donald and Bernice Kohls, Robert and Michael, sons of Clifford, and Roger and Dianne, children of Raymond. Mrs. Mapes makes her home with Mrs. Clark now.


  1. I love the pictures of Josephine and Jane. The outdoor pictures in the dark winter coats remind me of pictures of my grandmother Kristena and her sister-in-law Emma whom I never knew who lived right across Lake Michigan from Door County in Manistee, Michigan. Chris Nicholson

  2. Aren't they priceless? And how proud they must have been of those coats!