Welcome to my world

Month: January 2020

A Sort of Review

No treasure, but maybe a pirate or two…

I think I’ve made clear that there is no beginning and no end to family stories, and this makes it difficult to follow a strict timeline in research. The beginning of a new year and a new decade seems to warrant a bit of review, but as usual, I discovered a sideroad…

In 1607, the first successful English settlement in “our” part of the continent, North America, was at Jamestown, Virginia. In spite of the difficulties the new immigrants encountered, the flow of newcomers increased steadily through the 1600 and 1700s bringing thousands of settlers.

At some point during that 100-year period a man named Collings came to America seeking something…land, wealth, freedom, adventure, something that he couldn’t find in his homeland. He came from Ireland or England or Wales, probably as a young man. I don’t know if he came with a wife and children, or if he came as a child himself.

I can’t truly document this family line beyond one William Edward Collings who was born December 11, 1724 In Pennsylvania. I can’t pin down his father, though I am fairly certain his father’s name was Zebulon. There are some records that this is the case and William named his first son Zebulon, which seems to back up that theory.

In 1744 William Edward Collings married Anne Elston (daughter of Spencer and Mary Elston) in Frederick, Pennsylvania. Their first two children, Zebulon and Spencer were born in New Jersey in 1745 and 1750 respectively. Three more children followed — Elizabeth in 1752, William Elston in 1758 and Thomas in 1760, all born in Pennsylvania.

There were a couple of accounts that William might have married a woman named Anne Nowlin, so that was one side road I got lost on for a while.

Tracing women in genealogy is a little trickier than tracing men, but I’m convinced William Edward Collings married Anne Elston. Naming conventions were fairly common in the day and William and Anne named their first son Zebulon (after his father), their second son Spencer (after her father) and their third son William Elston, (Elston being her maiden name).

Anne’s family, the Elstons (also spelled Elson, Alston and various other ways), have a long, long history, as detailed extensively in a book titled “The Elstons in America” that I found on Ancestry.com. Although not documented, there is some speculation that in England, a Peter Elston was part of a group responsible for the execution of King Charles II in 1649, which would surely have been a pretty good reason to emigrate to another country.

He wouldn’t have been the first immigrant. The earliest documented mention of an Elston in America is an account of a shipwreck in the “Annals of Salem,” Vol. II, page 210, Joseph B. Felt:

“1631, July 26, Winthrop relates, ‘…a small bark of Salem, of about twelve tons, coming towards the bay, John Elston and two of Mr. Craddock’s fishermen being in her, and two tons of stone and three hogsheads of train oil, was overset in a gust, and being buoyed up by the oil, she floated up and down forty-eight hours, and the three men sitting upon her until Henry Way his boat, coming by, espied them and saved them.’”

This same John Elston was described as coming over on the Winthrop Fleet as “probably one of Craddock’s servants.” And before you ask, I have no idea why you would transport two tons of stone, nor what “train oil” was, there being no trains in 1631. Those questions are two sideroads I avoided.

In 1698, one of the more interesting Elston men, gave an account of his adventures as a young cabin boy on what could only be described as a pirate ship. Claiming that he ran away from home and fell asleep on a ship, he awoke to find the ship (and himself) out to sea. He names the various ports the ship visited and the “encounters” they had with other ships. Authorities investigating his actions wrote:

Dureing the time of theire being on the Coast they tooke two shipps Danes and Sweedes Laden with Goods for the Guinea trade takeing as many men out of them as were willing to saile…turning the shipps a drift, that in the Acc’on they had a Dispute with said shipps for about halfe an hour looseing one man

Apparently, there was a little bureaucratic snarkiness going on at the time John Elston was being investigated. He and another young man (both aged 19 or 20) were “seized” by the Earl of Bellmont, but the Earl seemed to view their adventures as youthful hijinks. He wrote in a letter to his bosses, the Lords of Trade, that since the boys were so young at the time of the piracy (12 or 13), were merely cabin boys and did not partake or profit from any of the encounters, he saw no reason to hold them or send them to England for a trial, and that they should be released on bail.

The Governor of East Jersey, on the other hand, was furious. He wrote to the House of Commons (his bosses) that it was his duty to refuse bail but that the Earl of Bellemont “by pretended Admiralty power forced them out of your petitioner’s hands and set them at liberty upon insufficient bayle, to the great hazard and danger of your Petitioner.”

There was detail as to how these young men posed a danger to the Governor and there are no additional records about how this case resolved, but I have to say: I’m excited to have a pirate in the family, even if he was “sort of” innocent.

New Year_Same Story

Papaw with his dog Yogi.

The past couple of years have been a difficult time with the loss of too many relatives and friends, losses that seem almost too much to bear. As we start a new year, I find myself dwelling on memories of people I have known.

What we remember of a person isn’t the person. Our memories are 2D, but a person is 3D. It takes all the memories of all the people who knew this person and still that’s not the person. The person, the actual 3D person, is what dies. That whole person. That’s what we lose and that’s what we miss, that 3D person that we only knew in 2D. Everyone who knew that person in life misses a different person than we miss…but that’s what’s gone…that multi-dimensional person.

That’s why we tell stories. We try to round out the person that has gone, but all we ever do is make an imperfect copy to remember.

In this blog I’ve been telling stories of people I’ve never known. Still, I feel some connection because they are my people, the people who have become me, the people who have given me depth, make me 3D. I try to imagine how it must have been for them, how they felt as they tried to make it through their world.

This year I will continue to tell these stories, but I want to also share the people I have known. I’m aware that “young” people become frustrated with “old” people who are always telling stories of the past, but I’d like to remind those “young” people that we have more past than we have future. As their future is important to them, our past is important to us. No, strike that…our past IS us. It is what makes us who we are…it is our third dimension.

So today, instead of telling you more about my pioneer ancestors (don’t worry, they’ll be back), I want to tell you about my paternal grandfather. I called him Papaw.

These are my memories of him. There are others who can add to this picture, give depth to the man he was, but there can never get a true three-dimensional image of him because that would take the man himself standing in front of me.

I was little, he was big, well over 6’6”, he was thin and sinewy, and as I knew him, always old. I see him wearing overalls and a blue work shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. Always the sleeves rolled up. Never down and buttoned. I know he dressed up. I have pictures of him in a suit, but that’s not how I remember him. Always in overalls and a work shirt.

This is the way Papaw always sat in a lawn chair.

He had a machine shop a few hundred yards from his house and I remember him there. When I remember him there are two images…on summer nights, after supper, he and my grandmother (Mamaw), sat in their metal lawn chairs on the back porch looking out over their property. The chairs were rocking chairs and while Mamaw rocked, Papaw sat leaning way back on the rockers of his chair, fly swatter in hand. With his long arms hanging down he could almost touch the porch floor. They sat from supper through twilight to darkness, and the murmur of their voices, the certainty that they were there, was the music of my childhood.

The other picture of him I have from my childhood is in their old house before they remodeled it, in a room that was all things. It contained the old iron, coal-burning stove, chairs pulled up in a circle around that stove, a table where we ate, a “daybed,” and a “sideboard.” Those are the names of the furniture I remember. This was the room where we spent our time, the living room.

On that sideboard, the top of which I was too short to see, were many wondrous things, tobacco pouches, small coins, safety pins, any small thing a person might need…and cough drops. My grandfather favored the Luden brand black lozenges. When he took one from the box, I wanted one too. I would call forth what I believed was a very convincing cough. Papaw always seriously offered me one from his box, but I learned early on that those black ones were horrible tasting. I pouted, shook my head, coughed again for good measure as he put the black box back and started to walk away. But then he would pick up another box, one that held red lozenges. I couldn’t read but I could recognize the box. He would ask me to be sure that was the one I wanted…not this one, holding up the black box? I pointed to the red and he shook one out in my little hand.

His profession was machinist and his shop was a wondrous place with tools that whirled and turned and drilled. I loved it. The shop smelled of oil and hot metal and work. Papaw would put on a big, black mask with a little window and make sparks fly like Fourth of July sparklers and when he took off the mask, two pieces of metal had become one forever.

There were bins of ball bearings and stacks of sheets of metal. He had one machine that cut screw threads into rods, shedding razor thin coils of metal shavings onto the floor.

The shop was a dangerous place for a child who walked barefoot through her young world. I knew the dangers from a very young age. I knew that by simply appearing in the doorway to his shop I could make him stop what he was doing and rush to pick me up and deposit me on the tall stool by his desk. The scolding I got for coming into the shop with no shoes was painless…the candy he handed me to make up for his scolds was priceless.

Other people knew other sides to the man who was my papaw. He was a son, husband, father, uncle, grandfather to more than just me. Some of you reading this knew many different dimensions of the man called Papaw, Shorty, Nick, Mr. Nicholas.

I really know very little of the man, but I never doubt he is in me.

© 2020 All I Know

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑