Dennis’ 400 sea captains earned their living upon the waves of the world. Their journeys took them to faraway lands inhabited by exotic peoples. Years, sometimes a good part of a decade would go by before they returned home to see family and friends. Yet this is the life they chose. Perhaps the spray and smell and salt of the ocean was in their blood, calling them from the rooted land to journey upon the rising and falling waves of the sea. ~ Jack Sheedy (Dennis Journal)
My grandmother loved telling me stories about her own grandfather and often reminded me that the sea was in my blood. I’m pretty sure it was this sea captain who took his second wife with him on a few of his voyages and bought her a “monkey” in some foreign land. Apparently the creature was a “holy terror” on the ship but she adored him.
My 2nd-great-grandfather, Capt. Martin Edward Thompson, son of Martin and Ann Isabella (Hughs) Thompson, was born 4 August 1850 in Dennis (Barnstable) Massachusetts, and died there 8 April 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 was named after his father, a Norwegian immigrant, and followed in his footsteps, becoming a Master Mariner and captain of the schooner Nellie Lamphear. He also served on coasting vessels, tug boats, and was licensed to enter any port in the world. In 1910 he was elected port warden of Boston by the Boston Marine Society, the oldest association of sea captains in the world.
Elisabeth was a homemaker and died of a “stoppage” when she was only 25 years old. Her baby son Martin Freeman was only 18 months old. She lies buried in the older Thompson plot with her in-laws in Swan Lake Cemetery in Dennis Port. Her gravestone is inscribed:
Fled O forever from our view A dear daughter, wife and mother, too: She was a treasure lent, not given: To be called away from Earth to Heaven. Life to her looked bright and joyous And her home was very dear: To the summons of her Savior, She gently yielded without fear.
The 1880 census indicates that, now a widower, Martin was living with his parents and his young son. Five years after Lizzie’s death, Martin married (as his second wife) her younger sister, Rosilla Ida “Rosie” Freeman, 23 February 1882 in Dennis. Rosie was born 6 March 1856 in Harwich, and died 18 March 1923, daughter of Warren and Elisabeth (Weekes) Freeman. Martin & Rosie had no children. In 1900, Martin and Rosilla were living as lodgers in the house of Nancy H. Merrill in Lynn, Massachusetts.
Martin owned a beloved horse named Nellie (named after his schooner or vice versa?) who lived in the barn at 114 Depot St. in Dennis. He gave his granddaughter, my grandmother, her first three cars. According to my grandfather, Martin and his granddaughter Thommie worshiped each other. The first car was a Model T that had to have the carbon scraped every week. The next was a 2-door sedan Model T. Martin lies buried with his second wife, Rosilla, in the newer Thompson plot in Swan Lake Cemetery in Dennis Port.
Elisabeth & Martin Edward were the parents of one son:
1. Capt. Martin Freeman Thompson (my great-grandfather), born 29 March 1875 in Harwich, died 13 July 1965 in Dennis. He married 1 February 1900 in Dennis, Amanda Eliza Hamblin, who was born there 2 August 1879 and died 6 July 1966 in Taunton (Bristol) Massachusetts, daughter of Capt. William Nelson and Anna Eliza (Baker) Hamblin. Martin & Amanda were the parents of one daughter.
In 1964 my grandparents inherited and moved into Martin’s house at 114 Depot Street in Dennis Port, along with my great-grandparents, who they were caring for. Some of our happiest family memories were made there. My dear cousin Matthew bought the house in 2001 after our grandfather died. He renovated the place, keeping its historical integrity and was awarded a certificate of appreciation from the Dennis Historical Commission in 2005. Sadly, the house had to be sold in 2009.
Cousins marrying cousins, close or distant, was very common on Cape Cod and throughout New England, which makes figuring out relationships tricky but utterly fascinating. I’ve tried my best to figure out the tangled roots and shoots from my 3rd-great-grandparents!
Warren Freeman, a watchmaker, son of Thomas and Roxanna (Cash) Freeman, was born 25 July 1814 in Harwich (Barnstable) Massachusetts, and died there 16 September 1894. He married (as his second wife) 12 June 1848 in Harwich, his double fourth cousin, Elisabeth Weekes, who was born 6 November 1822 in Harwich, and died there 18 September 1908, daughter of Isaac and Elisabeth (Allen) Weekes.
Warren married (as his first wife) in December 1836, his double fourth cousin, Priscilla E. Long, who was born 22 October 1817 and died 7 December 1846 in Harwich, daughter of Isaac and Esther (Ellis) Long. Warren & Priscilla shared two sets of 3rd-great-grandparents, Joshua and Mary (Cole) Hopkins and Edward and Mary (Woodman) Small.
A year and a half after Priscilla died, Warren married Elisabeth, Priscilla’s half third cousin. Elisabeth’s and Priscilla’s great-grandmothers, Hannah (Paine) Allen and Jane (Small) Long, were half sisters, both daughters of Hannah (Hopkins) (Paine) Smalley by two different fathers.
Warren & Elisabeth were also double fourth cousins, sharing the same two sets of 3rd-great-grandparents, Joshua and Mary (Cole) Hopkins and Edward and Mary (Woodman) Small.
On the 1870 Federal Census, Warren was recorded as living in Dennis Port, age 55, a “huckster”, with real estate valued at $5000 and a personal state of $3000. Warren is buried with both his wives and two of his children in the First Congregational Church Cemetery in Harwich.
Priscilla & Warren were the parents of two children:
1. Thomas Freeman, a blacksmith who was born 15 August 1837 in Harwich. He married Rosilla F. Allen.
2. Clemantina Freeman, born 26 March 1842 in Harwich, died 24 May 1858, age 16. Clemantina was buried next to her mother, Priscilla E. (Long) Freeman, in the First Congregational Church Cemetery.
Elisabeth & Warren were the parents of five children (all born in Harwich), but they only had one grandchild together, and only one great-grandchild:
1. Elisabeth Emma “Lizzie” Freeman (my 2nd-great-grandmother), born 4 September 1851, died 4 October 1876 in Harwich, age 25. She married 5 July 1874 in Harwich, Capt. Martin Edward Thompson, who was born 4 August 1850 in Dennis and died in 1928, son of Martin and Ann Isabella (Hughs) Thompson. When Elisabeth died her 18-month-old son was left without his mother. She lies buried in Swan Lake Cemetery in Dennis.
2. Warren Wallace Freeman, born 3 July 1853, died 27 August 1868, age 15. Warren lies buried with his parents in the First Congregational Church Cemetery.
3. Rosilla Ida “Rosie” Freeman, born 6 March 1856, died 18 March 1923, age 67. She married 23 February 1882 in Dennis (Barnstable) Massachusetts, Capt. Martin Edward Thompson, who was born 4 August 1850 in Dennis and died in 1928, widower of her sister, Elisabeth, and son of Martin and Ann Isabella (Hughs) Thompson. Rosie raised her nephew but never had children of her own. She also lies buried in Swan Lake Cemetery.
4. Ambrose Eldridge Freeman, born 21 April 1858, died 1944 in Boston, age 83. Ambrose was a confirmed bachelor with a fondness for alcohol. His little child’s rocking chair was given to Jonathan Freeman Rodgers by his great-grandmother, Emma Freeman (Thompson) White, who was Ambrose’s grandniece. The gift was made following a little episode in Jonathan’s young toddler life. One day his mother, absent mindedly kept giving him sips of a “Cape Codder” cocktail she was enjoying with her grandparents. His great-grandmother was the first to notice that Jon was getting a little tipsy, and made the observation that he was the spit and image of Uncle Ambrose! Ambrose lies buried with his parents in the First Congregational Church Cemetery.
5. Susan Flora “Susie” Freeman, born 22 March 1864, died 7 May 1963 at Woods Hole, age 99. She married 19 February 1891, Edward Ellsworth “Eddie” Swift, who was born 25 August 1861 in Falmouth (Barnstable) Massachusetts, and died in May 1964, age 102, son of Ezekiel Eldridge and Lucy G. (Thompson) Swift.
Susie & Eddie lived at 10 School St., Woods Hole, Cape Cod, Massachusetts. They had no children so my grandparents (along with my great-grandparents) moved into their house and cared for them there in their old age. My grandmother was Susie’s (Flora’s) grandniece. I well remember playing as a very small child in the yard there while visiting my grandparents and great-grandparents and 2nd great-granduncle and aunt! The lawn stretched down a hill to a harbor (perhaps a marina?), and the barns were full of sea crafts. Uncle Ed lived to be 102, and died when I was 7 years old.
In the picture above, I am being held by my 2nd great-granduncle Ed! By the time I was 2, Uncle Ed was bedridden and my grandmother would put me on his bed for a visit. Uncle Ed would ask, “And how old are you, Barbara?” I would bravely hold up two fingers while staring at his long white beard.
The following is from the Cape Cod Standard Times:
Falmouth Pair Married 70 Years [PHOTO] Caption: Mr. and Mrs. Edward E. Swift of Woods Hole show their marriage certificate dated Feb. 19, 1891. The Swifts are looking forward to their 70th anniversary celebration, to be shared with family and friends.
Swifts to Observe 70th Anniversary by Robert G. Elphick, Cape Cod Standard Times Staff Writer
WOODS HOLE, Feb. 3–A candy sailing ship shall cruise across a pastry map of Cape Cod, atop a cake to be baked in affectionate observance of a very rare occasion. The 70th wedding anniversary of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Ellsworth Swift of School Street. Mrs. Carlyle R. Hayes of Middle Street, locally noted cake baker and old friend of the Swifts, will have the masterpiece ready for the anniversary observance on Feb. 19.
Mr. Swift will be 100 years old on Aug. 25. Mrs. Swift will be 97 next month. Though confined to their antique-and-memory filled home overlooking Eel Pond, they remain articulate, cheerful and endowed with quick humor and ready memory.
“I used to sail a lot,” Mr. Swift recalled, citing trophies in Class B, for skill and speed with the 13-foot spritsail boats. While on the subject of boats and ships, he said his great uncle Elijah Swift ran the British blockade during the War of 1812, and in more peaceful times planted the elms that today tower above Falmouth’s Village Green.
Were Shipbuilders “Both my grandfathers were ship builders,” Mr. Swift added. Ezekiel Swift, he said, built whaling ships in Woods Hole, and Marshall Grew built other wooden ships for iron men in New Bedford.
Mrs. Swift is the former Flora Susan Freeman of Harwich. The Swift’s wedding certificate, larger and more elaborate than those issued today, states that the pair were married by the Rev. R. M. Wilkins, pastor of the Methodist Episcopal Church on Feb. 19, 1891, in South Harwich. The 70th anniversary observance will be at the Swift’s home, and will be limited to family and close friends.
Family includes the Swift’s grandniece, Mrs. John E. White, who came from West Harwich last September to care for the Swifts and her parents, Captain and Mrs. Martin Thompson. The Thompsons came to live with the Swifts five years ago.
Captain Thompson is a nephew of Mr. Swift. Until recently he has helped to run the hardware and ship’s chandler’s shop at the rear of the Swift’s home. The antique wooden sign over the shop entrance reads “Edward E. Swift, Dealer in Hardware, Cordage, Paints, Oil, Glass, and Galvanized Nails and Specialty.” The shop is rarely opened any more. Like the Swifts themselves, it is a survivor from another age.
Mrs. White said she is happy to be able to live with the Swifts and her parents and take care of them. “My parents observed their 61st wedding anniversary Wednesday,” Mrs. White commented. “My son is in the service and my daughter is at the University of Connecticut, so I have no one else to care for now, except my husband, of course. He’s a land surveyor and commutes daily to his office in West Harwich.”
Presented Symbol In 1956 Falmouth selectmen presented Mr. Swift with the cane marking him as the town’s oldest native resident. It was reported at the time that this was “a distinction that greatly pleased him.” The canes were made available to all Massachusetts towns many years ago by a Boston newspaper, to be handed down from one senior citizen to another.
“I enjoy books very much these days,” Mr. Swift commented. Each night Mr. and Mrs. White take turns reading aloud to the Swifts. “We are on Washington Irving now,” Mrs. White interjected. “Next we will do Dickens.”
Mr. Swift recalled that his middle name of Ellsworth was in honor of a relative who was serving at the time in the Civil War. He also remembered that he was born in Shiverick House when it was located in the parking lot that adjoins his present home–a short move to make in a century. He was graduated from Lawrence Academy, now the Falmouth USO and Legion Hall. In 1880, he then joined his father as E. Swift and Son, contractors, and in 1882 built the former Fay residence, now owned by the Oceanographic Institution. He also built the Congregational Church in Woods Hole during the 1880s, as well as many other structures long since passed into oblivion.
Open Shop The elder Swift died in 1909. The business was continued by his son until a shortage of labor and materials in World War I ended building operations. Mr. Swift remembers that we then opened his ship chandler’s shop at the rear of his home and has operated it until recent years, most recently with the assistance of Captain Thompson.
Mr. Swift was for many years clerk of the Church of the Messiah in Woods Hole, and remains today as clerk emeritus. A frequent visitor is the rector, the Rev. Mason Wilson. Additional friends will certainly be on hand Feb. 19 to mark a very special occasion and incidentally share in the enjoyment of a very special cake.
The following is from the WHOI [Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute] Historic Structures Survey, Swift House, 10 School St, constructed 1834, acquired by WHOI 1965:
Ezekiel Swift built the house and its two barns around 1834. The house was handed down through the years from his son, to his grandson, Eddie Swift, who was a well known character in Woods Hole. Eddie and his father formalized the family carpentry trade into a business known as E. E. Swift and Son in the late 1800s. The family building business survived until Eddie decided to open a hardware store in the barn behind the house. Eddie, who lived to be 103, and the hardware store survived into the 1960s. WHOI purchased the property on New Year’s Eve of 1964 and has used both the house and the barns since then. The house has served as offices for the Applied Oceanography group, now Ocean Engineering, and as home for other elements of departments.
The following is from a sign by a Woods Hole Spritsail Boat made by Edward Swift, donated to Mystic Seaport, Mystic, Connecticut, by Mr. & Mrs. John E. White:
Never launched or given her final coats of paint, this craft was built about 1910, and between that time and 1968 when it was given to this museum, the boat and the shop in which she was built were left essentially undisturbed, thus her pristine condition. Additional information is contained in the adjoining article excerpted from Skipper magazine. Length 13’4”, Beam 6′. Those Handy Little BCats by H.V.R. Palmer, Jr.
The past three days we have had absolutely GORGEOUS weather! Sea breezes and no humidity… Spent this morning inland escorting Auntie on her errands. She’s wobbly but still determined to carry on – I’m so glad she has the cane now… This afternoon the humidity started to creep back up, so when I got home I watched an inspiring movie called Everlasting Moments.
Agneta Ulfsäter-Troell wrote a biographical sketch about her ancestors in Sweden in the early 1900s, something I love to do, too, imagining what life was like for those who came before me. Her husband, filmmaker Jan Troell, used her manuscript to create a truly wonderful movie.
The story is narrated by Maja, daughter of Sigge & Maria, who starts the story with these words: “A week after Mother met Father, she won a camera in a lottery. Father thought the camera should be his, as he’d bought the ticket. Mother said if he wanted to share it he’d have to marry her. So they got married.”
But Sigge turned out to be an abusive alcoholic and the family was desperately struggling to make ends meet. Maria would often tell her seven children, “You see what you want to see.” When things looked very bleak Maria decided to sell the camera. She took it to a photography shop, where the owner, Mr. Pedersen, told her it was a Contessa and showed her how it worked. She was amazed and said, “I just don’t see how a picture comes to be!” He took the lens out of the camera and held it up in the sunlight between a butterfly fluttering inside the door and the palm of her hand. The moving image of the butterfly showed up on her hand. It was magic!
Mr. Pedersen decided that he would buy the camera from Maria but would let her borrow it. He kindly taught her how to use it and how to develop pictures. While Sigge was out drinking with his mistress, Maria was at home discovering her creative self while taking and developing pictures of her children and her cat. When a girl in the neighborhood died, Maria was asked to take a picture of her and soon she was being asked to take pictures for all sorts of special and everyday occasions.
“Not everyone is endowed with the gift of seeing,” observed Mr. Pedersen when he had a look at some of her pictures. And on another occasion he encouraged her by telling her that when she looks through the camera she sees a world to be explored, described and preserved. As a family historian that touched my heart.
Even after years of taking pictures, Maria was still in awe of the technology. She said, “Imagine, we’ll always be here. These moments will be everlasting.” Years after her mother died, Maja discovered an undeveloped picture in the camera, the last picture Maria took, and the only one she ever took of herself, capturing her reflection in a mirror.
When she was much younger than she is now, Auntie used to love to go on Caribbean cruises with her sisters, a hen party at sea. On one of those cruises she splurged and paid an artist to draw a picture of her. Now I am glad to have that happy moment in her life preserved.
I can relate to the thrill Maja had of discovering something special an ancestor has left behind! A clue about his or her life. Any little thing found that makes the picture of his or her life come more into focus. And the movie made me stop and think about how far the technology of photography has advanced in a hundred short years. All the thought and care that went into each and every exposure! Now with digital cameras we can be carefree, shooting whatever strikes our fancy in an instant. Perhaps I am reminded to slow down and think more about exploring the world and describing and preserving moments.
The oldest moment preserved in my family is of my is my 3rd-great-grandmother, Elisabeth (1822-1908), and her four oldest children, taken between 1858, when her fourth child was born, and 1864, when her fifth child was born. Looking at the squirming bunch of children makes me think that Elisabeth had her hands full! I love this picture because what we call the “Freeman frown” is very much on display here. And yes, Ambrose is wearing a dress. Apparently back then baby boys wore dresses until they were toilet trained.
Anyone who loves family history or the history of photography (or both) will no doubt find Everlasting Moments to be an especially heart warming film. Watching Maria blossom as an artist in spite of the harsh circumstances of her life is inspiring.