Black Sheep Sunday ~ The curse on a Condemned Man’s Children!

All Saints Church in Goosey, Berkshire, England. Where Clara was born.  Copyright owned by Dennis Jackson.

All Saints Church in Goosey, Berkshire, England. Where Clara was born. Copyright owned by Dennis Jackson.

I occasionally contemplate how the sins of the father can effect his children.  Is a man of sin, condemned to death, the only legacy of his offspring?  Are they forever cursed by his wrongs in life?  Perhaps not.  Children should not have to pay for the crimes of their parents.  They are responsible for their own actions, their own mistakes and not those of others. However, like a chain reaction, one event, one experience can set others in motion and although no one should be held responsible for the evils of their parents perhaps in the eyes of society it taints a person.  A blemish one cannot hide for which one is not at fault!

My great grandfather and his siblings had to contend with this stain on their characters, born of their father’s crimes and his subsequent hanging. Though I had already learned of the fate of my great grandfather and is younger siblings I knew little of the effects on some of his older sisters.  It was the tale I finally discovered of his sister Clara Ann which was to be most disheartening.

Clara was the daughter of John Carter and his first wife Elizabeth Ann Thatcher.  Clara had been 12 when her mother died. Always awful to lose a mother, being an adolescent was probably that much more difficult.  She was still at home when John remarried to Elizabeth Ann Alder and when she mysteriously disappeared. In 1892, at age 16 she married Henry Breakspear, ten years her senior.  This was before her father had married, murdered, and been tried for the killing of Rhoda Ann Titcombe, his third wife.

Perhaps the fate of Clara had already been sewn up.  Perhaps the poor choices and the harsh personality of her father lead to Clara’s choice in a husband who seems was also aggressive, and possibly weak minded, and lost in his own right.

Prior to his marriage Henry Breakspear had also had at least one run in with the law.  A newspaper article details a case in which Henry was charged with having assaulted a young boy he was employed with labouring on a farm.  He had struck this 15 year old boy and kicked him according to evidence given.  Henry claimed he had lost his temper because of the boy’s sauciness and admitted to having assaulted him but not kicked him.  The beating was allegedly severe and Henry was described as possibly half-witted.  It appears Henry may have had a temper similar to that of Clara’s father!

The newspaper article.

The newspaper article.

Clara’s father John was hanged in 1893 after having been convicted of killing his third wife Rhoda.  Clara had in various trials and inquests given testimony along with her siblings evidencing her fear of her father’s violent and brutal temper. Clara and Henry had a son, Edward John, in 1894 (I have yet to discover whether there were any others).  It was possible that in Clara’s mind John’s execution, and now the birth of a child, would bring closure to all tragedy in her life but this was a far cry from the truth!

As though deja vu, 5 years later Clara’s would have to revisit tragic circumstances when Henry, in a state of unsound mind commits suicide by hanging and, Llewellyn Jotcham, the same coroner who investigated her father, now investigated her husband’s death.  I sometimes wish Clara had left a diary.  That I could peer into the depths of her soul and understand exactly what life with her husband had been but these are the frustrations of genealogy; These are the blanks we must fill with our own imaginings and emotions.

Death Record for Henry Breakspear 1898

Death Record for Henry Breakspear 1898

When we feel we have born all burdens in life that we can, life pierces us yet again with arrows!  In 1914 World War I breaks out and England sends it’s brave and naive young men off to fight for king and country.  Clara’s son Edward is now 20 and off he ventures to France and Belgium as a member of the 1st battalion, Somerset Light Infantry.  Just as Clara has been cursed by tragedy in the past, she is now met with the sad end of her son’s life in its prime! Killed in action 7 Jul 1915, Edward was awarded the Victory medal and star his name appears on the Ploegsteert memorial,
Comines-Warneton, Hainaut, Belgium.

Ploegsteert Memorial, Belgium

Ploegsteert Memorial, Belgium

I know little nothing yet of what became of Clara after all these horrors in her life.  I’d like to think she remarried, found some sort of peace.  Hopefully further investigation into her life will lead to findings as these!


Amanuensis Monday ~ With Love…

Frederick and Hester Martin (Courtesy of:  "Reynolda House Museum of American Art Archives")

Frederick and Hester Martin (Courtesy of: “Reynolda House Museum of American Art Archives”)

I enjoy amanuensis when the writing is reasonably deciphered! It is a peevish problem when one’s head is tilted this way and that begins to swim with visions of ambiguous scrawling handwriting with no hope of decoding what appears to require a WWII code breaker from Bletchley Park!  The fulfillment however when the secret of the original records’ message is revealed is a kin to magic!  Journals, letters, legal documents, postcards, are personal and can often reveal intimate details of our ancestors’ emotional, internal lives!

Some of my absolute favourite transcriptions are of letters of wartime context.  The sense of longing and sorrow associated with a lost loved soldier or a distant love in dangerous circumstances can be heart wrenching.

Here are a couple of heart weighing tales discovered from a few simple transcriptions~

Frederick Martin, a cousin of my husband’s was a gardener of much prestige first in England and later at Reynolda House, a magnificent estate in Winston, North Carolina, USA.  Frederick sadly died in France on July 22, 1917 during the First World War.  His wife was devastated and her candid emotion in a letter to his employer, Mrs. Reynolds is truly breathtaking:

Dear Madam, It is just a week ago that I received the news of the overwhelming sorrow that has befallen me. There is not much to tell. He was killed in action on July 22nd. He had been wounded the day before but had been of great assistance to the officers in looking after those poor fellows who were more wounded than he was. Tho slightly wounded went into action next day to meet his death. It was a great shock to me for I had the day before received two letters from him. Letters full of hope, cheer and saying how he would make up to me when the war was over for the past years of separation and anxiety. If only a year could roll back how gladly I would brave the submarines to go with him, for in nearly every letter he was wishing I was with him but can only hope it is for the best. I cannot yet realize he has gone but I know when I go back to Philadelphia and England, I shall have some bad days to go through. I do not know yet what I shall do but am writing the British Consul for a passport to England, but of course they may not be able to let me go. His major writes me that his death was instantaneous and that he died a hero’s death, that is as it may be but I know that I have been called upon to give up a life that was very dear and precious to me. I hope that Mr. Reynolds is better for the visit to Atlantic City and that the children and yourself are well. Please tell Lizzie I will answer her kind letter soon. With best wishes Believe me yours sincerely H. Martin.

A second–I’ll be it happier–wartime correspondence is a telegram written to one Lance Corporal Knowles from Paris, Ontario, Canada 15 Nov 1916 announcing a joyous event which I’m sure he was disappointed to miss, the birth of his daughter Gwendolyn:

Western Union Cablegram From Paris, Ontario Number of words 22/23 Dated 15 Nov 1916 —

To L co. Lance Corporal Knowles 163232 Fourteenth Platoon D company seventy fifth Canadian Army Post Office London.

Daughter Gwendolyn both doing well. Knowles

The original Telegram

The original Telegram

Fred Knowles, a relation of my sister-in-law, was lucky enough to return home to meet his daughter. However, he was so badly wounded at the Somme that he was invalided home and lost his left arm.

Fred Knowles meets his daughter Gwendolyn in June of 1917.

Fred Knowles meets his daughter Gwendolyn in June of 1917.

These personal letters were truly sent With love and for love…
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Black Sheep Sunday ~ A Real Rogue!

Wedding photo of Ernest James Bryant and Elizabeth Annie Hewitt 1928

Wedding photo of Ernest James Bryant and Elizabeth Annie Hewitt 1928

While I shall write further about my darkest black sheep John Carter again in the future –I wrote about his murderous history last week–I thought I would highlight one of my husband’s family’s black sheep this week!

When I began my husband’s family history I felt my in-laws might feel less than interested in sharing with me the details necessary to research effectively.  Perhaps it started out that way but I soon became a family celebrity, the one who had the skills to take the bits and pieces of information, fill in the gaps, and create a cohesive story about allusive individuals and events!

One such allusive character in the family saga was my husband’s maternal Great-Grandfather, Ernest James Bryant.  My husband’s Grandfather, Clifford Sedgewick Bryant was raised by his mother, Elizabeth Hewitt, his aunts, and their mother, Sarah Ann Bostock.  Clifford had never met his father though he did know his name, Ernest James Bryant (1901-1960). He told his wife that once he had tracked down his father Ernest in Detroit, Michigan and had gone to visit him.  He was to meet him in a church where he was met by a priest with a message for him from his father, “Never come looking for him again!”  There was the suggestion that Ernest James Bryant was perhaps a rum runner working for the “Purple Gang” transporting alcohol across the border from Windsor, Ontario to Detroit.  I have yet to find proof of his involvement with this notorious bootlegging gang but it could very well be true!  Regardless, he was a roguish fellow.

What I do know of Ernest James Bryant is that he was born in Woodstock, Ontario to James Enoch Butler Bryant and Emma Tena Griggs, 17 Jun 1901.  In 1918 at the tender age of 17, Ernest lied about his age and enlisted in the CEF during World War I. I ordered his WWI service file and learned that he was transferred to the 1st Battalion, London, Ontario, and was discharged as a minor but not before he was involved in a motorcycle accident during training (sounds a bit like trouble)!  Because he was found out he did not make it overseas.  He worked as an ammunition worker, probably at the Cockshutt Plow Company in Brantford, Ontario which produced munitions during the war.

About 10 years later, Ernest James Bryant was working in Windsor, Ontario in the automobile manufacturing industry but obviously continued to visit Brantford where he met Elizabeth Annie Hewitt who soon became pregnant with his child.  As was often the case a quick marriage ensued–3 Nov 1928 at St. James Anglican Church in Paris, Ontario–and my husband’s grandfather Clifford was born 19 Jun 1929.  Though they were married Ernest and Elizabeth never lived together and Ernest had made a hurried get away!

But where had he gone?  Perhaps to join the action of bootlegging in 1930s Detroit? I have found no record of him again until his U.S. Naturalization in 1942.  Living in Detroit he claimed he was married but not to Elizabeth Hewitt.  HIs wife was listed as a woman named Opal, born in Montana, and wedded in  Detroit, 8 Feb 1941.  He also claimed to have arrived in the U.S. in 1919 by train.  Ernest was naturalized in time to enlist to fight for the United States during World War II, and this time he was of age! I believe this may have been why he chose to naturalize when he did for he enlisted in 1942 and according to his military grave application served in the 8th Service Command of the U.S. army. He received no medals and I am unsure at this point of the details of his service but he was discharged honourably in 1943.

He married at some point later, a much younger, Elaine Ada Hemmingsen and had two children.  Whether, Opal was a fictitious spouse or not, Elizabeth Hewitt was quite real and I do not know when they ever divorced.  Ernest James Bryant died in 1960 and is buried in a military grave in Detroit’s National Memorial Gardens Cemetery.

A rogue, perhaps a scoundrel, maybe even a criminal, there are not many who could say they enlisted in both World Wars and lived such an adventurous existence!
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