Cape Cod Seafaring

The decade of the 1850s was truly an incredible period in seafaring history. Clipper ships sailed the world’s oceans, bringing back fortunes and treasures from faraway lands to Cape Cod, and the town of Dennis. And some of the ships playing a part in this history were built right down the road at Sesuit Harbor. These vessels, built by East Dennis hands, outraced pirates, battled typhoons, and carried their cargoes to their Dennis homes. And some just seemed to fall off the edge of the world, their crews never to be heard from again.
~ Jack Sheedy
(Dennis Journal)

My 3rd-great-grandfather, Capt. Martin Thompson, son of Hans Mathias Tønnesen and Dorothea Larsdatter Strømtan, was born 23 July 1818 in Brevik (Telemark) Norway as Ingebrigt Martinus Hansen, and died 22 October 1896 in Dennis (Barnstable) Massachusetts. He married (as his first wife) after 2 July 1849 in Harwich (Barnstable) Massachusetts, Ann Isabella Hughes, who was born 6 January 1830 in Ireland, and died 16 May 1885.

Ingebrigt was vaccinated on 18 September 1832 in Brevik by Dr. Schmidt. [In 1995, my brother-in-law John located the birth record for Ingebrigt Martinus in the regional archives in Kongsberg, Norway.] According to naturalization papers, Ingebrigt arrived in America in the port of Philadelphia on 10 June 1837, and filed a Declaration of Intention in New York City 6 April 1848. The naturalization was processed by the Boston Municipal Court and he became an American citizen 17 April 1854. According to his great-granddaughter, my grandmother, Martin came to America to help test steamships which were just becoming commercially useful.

By 1850 the newly married couple was living in Dennis and Martin worked as a mariner, master mariner and sea-captain and had accumulated some wealth by 1870, claiming real estate valued at $4000 and a personal estate of $8000. On 2 March 1866, while Martin was captain of the Schooner Niger, two Swiss sailors with the same name attempted to land in a boat from the schooner but capsized and drowned. On May 13 the body of John P. Erixson was picked up on the shore of Harwich Port and on May 14 the body of John Erixson came on shore close to the same spot. John had sailed with Capt. Thompson for about 4 years and boarded with him and Mrs. Nehemiah Wixon. The sailors were buried together in Swan Lake Cemetery.

I have not been able to identify Ann’s Irish parents. She died of a tumor when she was 55 years old. The following is from Saints’ Herald Obituaries, 1885, p. 426:

Ann L. (Thompson) was baptized and confirmed a member of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on 30 September 1874 at Dennisport, Barnstable, Massachusetts, by C. N. Brown.

Birth Date: About 1830
Death Date: May 1885
Death Place: Dennisport, Barnstable, Massachusetts
Spouse: Captain Thompson

Martin married (as his second wife and as her second husband) 1 February 1887 Frances Jemima (Turner) Turner, his housekeeper, who was born about 1848 in England, daughter of James Turner and Jemima Frances (Best) (Turner) Tyrode, and widow of John Turner. After Martin & Frances married Frances was able to bring her 18-year-old daughter over from England. Her daughter by her first husband was Eugenie Helene Maud Turner (1869-1939). By this time Martin had settled down as a merchant, and at the time he died he owned a spice store, his occupation being noted as trader. Apparently he left most of his estate to Frances and her daughter.

Martin died of bronchitis, at the age of 78. His will was written 24 March 1890 and proved 8 December 1896. Martin & Ann are buried together in Swan Lake Cemetery in Dennis. The inscriptions on their tombstones are identical:

Rest till the morn
Of the resurrection,
When we hope to Meet thee.

Ann & Martin were the parents of three children:

1. Capt. Martin Edward Thompson (my 2nd-great-grandfather), born 4 August 1850 in Dennis, died 1928. He married (as his first wife) 5 July 1874 in Harwich (Barnstable) Massachusetts, Elisabeth Emma “Lizzie” Freeman, who was born 4 September 1851 in Harwich, and died there 4 October 1876, daughter of Warren and Elisabeth (Weekes) Freeman. Martin & Elisabeth were the parents of one son.

Martin married (as his second wife) 23 February 1882 in Dennis, Elizabeth’s younger sister, Rosilla Ida “Rosie” Freeman, who was born 6 March 1856 in Harwich, and died 18 March 1923, daughter of Warren and Elisabeth (Weekes) Freeman. Martin & Rosilla did not have any children.

2. John “Hanse Ingebrath” Thompson, born 19 June 1853 in Dennis, died 1917. John was also a mariner and was named after his grandfather, Hans Tønnesen and his 2nd great-grandfather, Engelbret Olsen Baar. He married (as his first wife) Thankful M. (—). John married (as his second wife) 13 February 1881 in Harwich, Etta Lee Kelley, who was born 1858 in Dennis and died 1929, daughter of Joseph and Barbara A. (—) Kelley. According to my grandmother, Uncle John had quite the temper, and made a big impression on her when he threw a frying pan out of the window, shouting out after it emphatically: “I said that there will be no onions fried in this house!!!!” John, Etta and their daughter Annie are buried with John’s parents in Swan Lake Cemetery.

3. Anna Thompson, born about 1863 and probably died young. She was in her parents household and attending school in 1870, when she was 7 years old.

Anna Dorothea Torbiornsdatter

"Dairymaid" by Gerhard Munthe (1849–1929)
“Dairymaid” by Gerhard Munthe

It seems to happen every year in the month of May – the ancestors begin calling again – do some more research, they beckon from the past, do some more research… It begins around Mothers Day, so I am convinced my late mother is egging them on.

In the late 1990s after years of hunting, I found a record of a second marriage for my Norwegian ancestor, Martin Thompson. He had married his housekeeper late in life and after his first wife died, a fact I don’t recall anyone ever mentioning before. Anyhow, my grandfather had told me that Thompson was Americanized from what sounded like (and turned out to be) Tønnesen. This marriage record said that Martin’s parents were John and Dorothy and that he was born 23 July 1818 in Brevig, Norway. John and Dorothy??? Didn’t sound at all Norwegian to me…

Meanwhile, my sister and brother-in-law were living in Sweden and my brother-in-law offered to hop over to Norway to do some research for me, something he excels at. He found that Brevig is now Brevik, a little seaside town in the county of Telemark, and sure enough, Ingebrigt Martinus Hansen, my 3rd-great-grandfather, who became Martin Thompson in America, was born there on 23 July 1818 to Hans Tønnesen & Dorothea Larsdatter. (John & Dorothy!) None of them were using surnames, they were all recorded with patronymics. Hans and his four brothers were sailors, and their father, my 5th-great-grandfather, Tønnes Ingebretsen, was a ship’s carpenter.

And that’s about where the trail ended for more than a few years…

But now through the magic of the internet and Ancestry.com, yesterday I traced back to my 6th-great-grandmother, Anna Dorothea Torbiornsdatter, who was born in 1735 in Arendal, a seaside town south of Brevik, in the county of Aust-Agder. I wonder what her life was like. She gave birth to six children, and the firstborn, Anne Lisbeth, died in infancy so her name was given again to the next baby. Then came Ole, Tønnes (my 5th-great-grandfather), Kirstine and Nicolai.  Tønnes is the one who was born in Arendal and relocated to Brevik, where he died. There is so much more I want to know about Anna Dorothea – for some reason, she is the one calling me now!