Threads of History

On January 27, 1876, the Wellington Enterprise reported on the village’s American centennial celebrations: “A goodly number of antique relics and curiosities have already been promised for the Museum, and it is thought that enough will be gathered to make this department a decided success” (pg. 3). I was recently offered the opportunity to examine a small box containing an absolute treasure trove. Inside, more than a dozen paper labels each have an item attached, with a hand-written description that provides us insight as to its connection to Wellington’s history. The owners of the box believe that most of these items were assembled for that very centennial display.

Just as we are now commemorating our own town bicentennial with speakers and events, Wellington’s plans for the country’s one hundredth birthday were elaborate. Noah Huckins, the Canadian businessman who built my former home, was in charge of both historic characters (what we might today call “reenactors”) and an art gallery. W. F. Herrick was chairman of the above-mentioned museum. There was a musical committee, headed by W. H. Fisher, a decoration committee run by J. H. Hood, and a group managing “Rooms,” led by H. Wadsworth. Two groups were headed by women; Mrs. L. B. Lane was responsible for “Tables, &c.” while Mrs. R. Craddock was in charge of quilting-related activities. There was even a plan to stage something called the “New England Kitchen,” in which visitors could experience “the old style furniture, and ladies in frocks and caps–such as were worn so long ago–busy, ‘a carding and spinning, and quilting,’ and in various occupations of this kind.”

Americans of the late nineteenth century were particularly fascinated by the textiles and textile production techniques of the colonial period. A spinning wheel was usually featured in historic tableaux such as the “New England Kitchen” or in prints or illustrations depicting the earlier period, even when they were not historically accurate. There were no spinning wheels on the Mayflower, for example, nor were they present during the first decades of Plymouth Colony, but in the 1800s they were almost always included in representations of the so-called Pilgrims. Most of the items in the box are textiles.

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The first piece is a checked linen. The card reads, “Spun and woven by Betsey Manly in 1822. Flax grown by her husband, Butler Manly, one of the first settlers of Wellington. Presented by Ann Hoke.” Josiah Butler Manly, who went by his middle name, was the first person to die in Wellington. He has two headstones, one in the Pioneer Cemetery on West Herrick Avenue, and one in Greenwood Cemetery. It is unclear whether his body was moved upon the death of his wife, Betsey, or if she simply wished his name included on her stone. Josiah died in 1824, apparently of malarial fever, when he was still a young man; Betsey much later remarried local temperance crusader Mathew DeWolf.

The checks on this cloth may have originally been red, and have only faded to brown over the centuries. It is also important to note that although the donor, Ann Hoke, had reason to believe (see below) that Betsey Manly manufactured this cloth herself, all sorts of cloth was readily available for purchase in Wellington at least as early as the 1830s, as surviving store inventories demonstrate.

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Ann Hoke also donated this second piece of cloth, attributed to Hannah Post Webster and her daughter, Betsey. Hoke believed the piece to have been woven in 1812 at Bethlehem, “now Otis, Mass.” Regular readers of this blog will remember that many of Wellington’s earliest residents emigrated from the Berkshire region of Massachusetts during the first half of the nineteenth century.

Ann Eliza Manly Hoke was the wife of David Hoke, who murdered his employer and committed suicide in the year 1890. She was born in 1824, the same year her father, Josiah Manly, died in Wellington. Hannah Post Webster was therefore Ann’s maternal grandmother, and “daughter Betsey” was Ann’s own mother. Betsey died in 1879. If these cards were indeed prepared in 1876, Betsey may have personally verified the information about these fabrics that Ann Hoke chose to include on their cards.

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I do not know who Mrs. Kate Bitner of Milwaukee, Wisconsin was, nor the nature of her connection to Wellington. I also have no idea how she came to be in possession of a piece of President John Quincy Adams’s floral print bed hangings. I do know that I grew up in Quincy, Massachusetts and the Adams mansion, Peace field (now part of the National Park Service), was a place I frequently visited in my youth.

UPDATE: With the incredible sleuthing assistance of Wellington Genealogy Group president Marilyn Wainio, we were able to untangle the life history of Mrs. Kate Bitner, née Kate M. Ladd. She was the daughter of George Ladd, born in Illinois in 1856. In 1878, she married Thomas Frederick Bitner. The family lived in Illinois until at least 1894, but were residents of Milwaukee, Wisconsin by the time of the 1900 census. They remained in Milwaukee for at least twelve years, before relocating to Arizona sometime before 1920. Kate died in 1952 and is buried in Prescott, Arizona.

Kate Ladd Bitner visited Wellington at least once. The Enterprise reported that “Mrs. Thos. Bitner and daughter Lora, of Englewood, Ill., are visiting at E. Benedict’s and other relatives here” (7-27-1892, pg. 5). What the research into Kate further reveals is that Arminda Ladd Benedict, Flora Ladd Webster, and Mary Harvey Ladd (see below) were all sisters, and Kate Bitner was their niece. Kate’s contribution to the collection of fabric samples must have been made sometime between the late 1890s and the nineteen-teens, when her family left Milwaukee for the southwestern United States.

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The card attached to this piece reads, “Home-spun and woven. Belonged to Mrs. Grosvenor. Date earlier than 1794. L. C. Ladd.” I do not presently know the identity of L. C. Ladd. There are a number of Ladds that populate Wellington history. Arminda Ladd was born in Vermont and later married businessman Ethel Benedict and settled in the village in the early 1860s. In that same period, Mary H. Ladd taught a school in Wellington. Flora Ladd married Edward F. Webster, future head of Horr-Warner, in 1870. Elizabeth Alberta Ladd was a compositor, or type setter, for the Wellington Enterprise for two years in the early 1880s. (During her tenure, other employees included printing foreman Frank Ladd–probably her father–and his nephew, John Ladd.) Perhaps cloth donor L. C. is a relative of one of these women.

UPDATE: As noted in the update above, Arminda Ladd Benedict, Flora Ladd Webster, and Mary Harvey Ladd were all sisters. L.C. Ladd was their sister-in-law (wife of their brother, William). Her given name was Lewellen Clapp, born in Massachusetts in 1840. In the fall of 1881, the Enterprise reported that Mrs. Benedict, Mrs. Webster, and Mrs. William Ladd were all setting out on a tour of the New England states together, presumably to visit the places of their births and perhaps visit relatives.

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Flora Ladd Webster. Photo 970679 of “Wellington Family Album” Collection, Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

In 1897, Mary Harvey Ladd was declared “a lunatic” and her brother-in-law, Edward Webster, was appointed her guardian. Edward had also been named guardian of photographer William Sawtell, overseeing the family finances after Sawtell committed himself to an asylum in Cleveland. Webster and Sawtell served together in the Civil War and remained lifelong friends; a little painting I own by Sawtell was painted for Flora Ladd Webster.

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This vibrant red fabric feels like velvet, but I think it may be somewhat tattered broadcloth, or plain-woven wool. Red wool cloaks were very popular working-class garments in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but more finely tailored cuts were also worn by the upper classes. (Note the cover of this clothing reference book published by Colonial Williamsburg.) The construction of this particular cloak coincidentally dates to the time of American independence and it is said to have belonged to Ella Wadsworth’s great-great-grandmother. Ella served as Wellington’s librarian in the 1870s.

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This checked linen swatch was said to have been taken from a “sheet made by slaves” confiscated during the Civil War at a house in Cumberland Gap, Tennessee. Many Wellington men served during the war. Archibald Willard enlisted in the 86th Ohio Volunteer Infantry in June 1863; his tour of duty took him to Cumberland Gap, which he painted around 1864.

“G. Hemenway” was likely George Hemenway, whose family came from a tiny farming community in the Berkshires called Florida, Massachusetts.

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This small square, which measures approximately 8 1/2″ by 9″, was cut from a larger plain woven piece of “ticking.” A straw tick was a heavy, course linen mattress bag meant to be stuffed with straw (or corn husks, or more labor-intensive feathers, etc.) before being slept on. The contents of the mattress could be replaced as necessary, and the bag infrequently laundered. This souvenir square has been hemmed with a pale blue thread around all four edges. It was contributed by William F. Sawtell (or “Sawtelle,” as he spelled it later in life) local photographer and amateur artist.

The last item of interest is a tiny piece of jewelry contained in a lightweight paper box. I believe that the pendent is a piece of mourning jewelry, likely woven of human hair from a deceased loved one. The owner wore it in remembrance of the person lost. This pendent is engraved on the back. It is very small, less than 3/4″ in length overall, and the tiny initials have somewhat softened with time and wearing, making them difficult to read. I believe it is inscribed “M. H. H.” Could this have belonged to Mary Hayes Houghton, co-editor of the Wellington Enterprise for nearly a decade? Mary’s step-daughter, Flora, died in 1879 at the tender age of fourteen.

There are a few other miscellaneous articles in the box. Two buttons are recorded as being part of the “Justice Collection,” likely referring to local antiquarian Alex Justice. A piece of olive wood allegedly from Jerusalem–this card is actually annotated “Centennial 1876”–was donated by Mrs. E. F. W., perhaps the same Flora Ladd who married Edward Webster, mentioned above. One card is pierced by a small knife and heavy metal pin.

A final, tantalizing card has no object attached, but claims to have once held “wood from building erected by R. B. Webster [Russell Bidwell Webster, brother of Betsey Webster Manly] in 1824, the first frame house in Wellington, now standing on the farm of H. B. Manly.” Betsey’s obituary in the Wellington Enterprise describes this earliest frame house at some length: “Russell Webster, a brother of Mrs. Manly, had a log cabin nearly completed, which was to be the future home of this family.…The cabin had some extra furnishings which had been brought from the East. There was one chair, a small stand, some sheep skin mats spread upon the white puncheon [i.e. split log] floors, a candle stick, with snuffers and tray, and a tallow candle burning in the socket, an article the other settlers had not seen in use since leaving their homes in the East” (5-15-1879, pg. 3).

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Frederick B. Manley, from “Commemorative Biographical Record of the Counties of Huron and Lorain, Ohio” (1894), opposite pg. 694.

The bottom corner of the empty card is initialed “F. B. M.” and dated 1899. Frederick B. Manley–as he sometimes styled the family name–was the son of Betsey Manly, and older brother of Ann Manly Hoke. He died in 1900. His entry in Commemorative Biographical Record of the Counties of Huron and Lorain, Ohio lamented, “Ofttimes he ruminates upon the changes that have taken place, in his midst, since the days of the stick chimney and puncheon floor, and the twang of the thread as the good mother faithfully plied her needle, by the dim light of a tallow candle…” (697). The Manly family is clearly the common denominator between many of these objects, though it is curious that they were apparently gathered together over such a long period of time–at least twenty-three years.

I am so grateful to the owners of this marvelous little cabinet of curiosities, for allowing me to have a peak inside, and for permitting me to share with all of you the wonders contained within it.

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