Ghost Town Wednesday: Swastika, New Mexico

GhostTownWednesdayToday, this would be considered an unfortunate name for a town, ghostly or otherwise.  Believe it or not, years ago the swastika symbol was widely used.  It was also used by Native American tribes like the Navajos, Hopis, Apaches and others (although later abandoned).  The 45th Infantry Division of the United States military used the symbol until the 1930’s.  Apparently, it was in wide use in the state of New Mexico, and not just by the Native Americans.

Across the United States, government buildings (post offices, etc.) included the symbol in floor tiles.  The Albuquerque federal building constructed in 1930, and now on the National Register of Historic Places, featured radiator grates in the foyer which consist of several swastika blocks.

Interestingly, the New Mexico State yearbook was named the Swastika,  beginning in 1907.  In May of 1983 the Board of Regents officially voted against the symbol’s use and the name, saying, “It is the responsibility of the board when an issue becomes of this magnitude . . . not because of logic but because of the impact on the university.”

This area around Colfax County, New Mexico had long been known for its coal mining operations.  On October 22, 1913 a massive explosion occurred at the Dawson mine, killing two hundred and fifty – you can read my article on this tragic event here.

Following the end of World War I, the St. Louis, Rocky Mountain & Pacific Company purchased land and coal rights from the Maxwell Land Grant Company.  Its products, coal and coke, were marketed through a subsidiary called the Swastika Fuel Company — proudly displaying a swastika as its trademark.

swastika_fuelCoThe company’s offices were located in Raton and its products were distributed throughout Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.  The coal was also used by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railway company, and gradually other uses were found, expanding the market to include a large portion of the Southwest.

Swastika first started out as a camp and grew into a company town.  In 1919 a post office was established and as workers arrived, plots were laid out and homes began to be built for the miners and their families.  Many of them, like those working mines throughout that area, were immigrants – Italians were prominently represented.

According to Ghost Towns and Mining Camps of New Mexico by James E. and Barbara H. Sherman, the Italians brought their love of soccer and challenged neighboring camps to play against them.   With increased oil exploration in Texas came the need for more coal to provide steam power for the drilling operations.  By 1929, Swastika had reached a population of around five hundred – oh, and Raton had built the Hotel Swastika (later renamed the Yucca), “at the foot of beautiful Raton Pass”.

HotelSwastikaThere was another mining town in the area named Brilliant (more on this ghost town in another article).  When Brilliant closed in the mid-1930’s, and with Hitler and his Nazi regime beginning to make itself a menace throughout Europe, the name Swastika no longer seemed appropriate.  Instead the town was renamed Brilliant (or Brilliant II or New Brilliant).  By 1940, however, the post office had closed and by the early 1950’s the town of Swastika/Brilliant was completely abandoned.



Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

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© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.
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Tombstone Tuesday: David Coubrough (Montreal, Canada)

CoubroughGraveDavid Coubrough was born in approximately 1856, according to mid-to-late nineteenth century Scottish census records.  His parents, Robert and Mary (Sandilands) Coubrough, lived in Thornliebank, Renfrewshire, Scotland (near Glasgow) where his father was employed in the textile industry as a cotton cloth lapper – someone who either cleaned cotton fibers before fed into carding machines or moved the yarn from the carding machine to the next process in weaving.  David would later follow his father and work in the same industry as a printfields labourer, or one who dyed and printed calico cloth.

David was the youngest child of Robert and Mary’s, for Robert died on May 24, 1857, leaving Mary with six children to raise on a textile worker’s salary.  It is unclear, however, whether she actually continued to work in the mill since in 1861 her occupation was listed as “formerly coiler bleacher” (which might have instead been “color bleacher”).

Whether or not their work was especially skilled or not, it is fairly certain that it did not pay well.  Speaking about the major industries which provided employment in the late 1800’s, the Electric Scotland web site had this to say:

The major employers were the ‘heavy’ industries – coal mining, iron and steel-founding, shipbuilding and engineering. More than 200,000 families derived their livelihood from these industries, and a further 150,000 were sustained by employment in textile production. Thus more than half the population was dependent upon labour-intensive manufacturing industry.

In the late 1800s and into the twentieth century, these industries were earning large profits, and great wealth came to the owners, who enjoyed, in late Victorian and Edwardian times, life-styles enviable for leisure and luxury.  Unfortunately, though individual acts of charity were frequent, there was no official social conscience; and, in the presence of great riches, industrial workers lived lives governed by low wages, long hours and frequently unhealthy and dangerous working conditions. Away from the workplace, living conditions were, as came to be realised, a national disgrace.  Housing, whether provided by employers or by builders planning to draw rents, was generally cheap in construction, poor in quality and grudging in space.  If employers had provided high-quality housing, then their profits would have suffered.  If builders had offered high quality rented homes, a low-paid workforce could never have paid the rents required. So, buildings were crammed into confined sites, often cheek-by-jowl with colliery and yard, factory and foundry; rooms were small, and around 53 per cent of families, no matter how numerous, lived in houses with one or two rooms. Indoor sanitation was absent or shared, and the effect of these conditions upon the health and life-expectancy of the people was bound to be damaging.   Typhoid fever and even cholera survived into the twentieth century; epidemics of diphtheria and scarlet fever were virtually annual, and tuberculosis killed thousands.  Poverty led to malnutrition, and diseases caused by diet deficiency, like rickets, were common. To make matters worse, the houses were themselves aging, and new building was quite inadequate to provide homes for the rising population between 1850 and 1900.

To make matters worse, though few could have realised it, Scotland’s days of industrial success were already numbered. The appearance of economic success endured and examples of technological excellence (such as the building of the first turbine-powered steamer, King Edward in 1901) occurred, but the basis of Scotland’s role as one of the world’s workshops was weakening.

It’s possible this is what life was like for the Coubrough family of Thornliebank, Scotland.  David perhaps made the acquaintance of his bride-to-be, Mary Smith, at the textile mill, she also a printfields worker.  Their marriage record was recorded in the Parish of Eastwood in County Renfrew on April 29, 1881 (as transcribed by a family researcher):

1881 on the Twenty ninth day of April at Thornliebank after Banns according to the Forms of the Established Church of Scotland. David Coubrough, Printfields Labourer, Bachelor, 25, Thornliebank, [son of] Robert Coubrough, Cotton Cloth Lapper, dec. [and] Mary Coubrough, Formerly Gunn, M.S. Sandalands [married] Mary Smith, Printfields Worker, 20, Thornliebank, [daughter of] James Smith, House Painter, [and] Isabella Gunn. [The ceremony was performed by] George Campbell, Minister of Eastwood, [and witnessed by] Samuel Jack and Annie Carrey.

Together David and Mary had at least eight children.  According to the 1901 Scottish census records: Hugh (18); David (16); Isabella (12); Andrew (8); Mary (6); Charles (3) and John (1).  That year David was employed as a “grain worker”.  Sons Hugh and David worked in the textile mill, Hugh as a thread spool turner and David as a calico machine worker.  It appears that David and Mary had one more child, Susan, who was born later that year.

By 1912, it is likely that economic conditions and employment opportunities had deteriorated enough to compel the Coubrough family to immigrate to Canada.  One source also indicates that the Canadian government had undertaken an aggressive policy which encouraged immigration between the late 1890’s and 1914.

I found two passenger lists which do appear to list David and his family, although some of the ages don’t seem to coincide with birth or census records (I wonder if perhaps some were his grandchildren since I think maybe some of his children and their spouses were also immigrating at the same time).  Interestingly, one of the passenger lists, recorded the passenger’s religious denomination.  Most of the passengers listed on the page where David and his family appeared were Presbyterian.



However, David and his family were listed as “Or Sec” (this might have meant “Original Secession”) which I believe refers to a branch of the Presbyterian church.  The church, originally called the United Secession Church was formed in 1820 when separation from the Church of Scotland occurred, and merged with the Presbyterian Relief Church in 1847 to become the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland.

The other passenger list had more details about the steamship line (Donaldson), the ship’s name (Letitia), date of departure (October 19, 1912), where it was bound (Quebec, Montreal) and where passengers embarked (Glasgow).  Most of the passengers were Scottish and most headed to Canada – 119 passengers were traveling in second class and 158 in third class.  David and his family were traveling third class, which likely meant all passengers of that class were housed in one large room (also referred to as “steerage”).

LetitiaShipAlthough there is a younger David listed, it’s possible that David, Jr. had already immigrated the year before.  I found another passenger list which indicated a David Coubrough had arrived on April 27, 1911, and his age listed as twenty-five matches his approximate birth date.  David, Jr. was planning to live with family (brother-in-law) when he arrived.  So, it’s likely other family members had already immigrated to Canada.

The picture below would have presumably been taken after the family immigrated to Canada, perhaps sometime between 1912 and 1914 or 1915 since David, Jr. appears to have joined the Royal Montreal Regiment (also known as the 14th Battalion) which landed in France in early 1915.

DavidCoubroughFamilyTragically, Private David Coubrough died in Arras, France on March 10, 1917 from a grenade wound he sustained.  He was buried in Lapugnoy Military Cemetery, five miles west of Berthune, France:

DavidCoubroughJr_DeathRecThe news was devastating was, of course, to his family, as would be expected, and perhaps his father took it especially hard.  Although his cause of death is unknown.  David Coubrough, Sr. died two months after his son on May 10.  He was buried on May 12 and his funeral attended by Reverend S.S. Burns.

DavidCoubrough_DeathRecMary, a widow, was enumerated as living with five of her children in Montreal for the 1921 Canadian census.  She lived to be almost ninety years old, dying on July 2, 1951.  It appears that she and David are buried in the same cemetery (Mount Royal) and share a grave stone.

STORY NOTE:  Today’s article stems from the Scottish and Canadian ancestry research I conducted last week, mostly for “practice” (I sure did learn a lot!).  David Coubrough is the great grandfather of my cousin, Terrie Coubrough Henderson.

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

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© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.
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Monday Meanderings: Research Adventures (and a little massacre story)

MondayMeanderingsResearch, research, research!  Although feeling under the weather this last week with a nasty upper respiratory viral thing-y, I’ve managed to do quite a bit of research.

I’ve taken the plunge into some Canadian and Scottish ancestry that I found quite interesting, and surprisingly, have been able to locate some great records (church records are some of the best!).  I was looking in both Scottish and Newfoundland church records and found a wealth of information.  For weddings, a lot of information can be gathered.  For instance (transcribed as posted online):

From the Scottish Civil Records, 1881 Marriages in the Parish of Eastwood in the County of Renfrew:

1881 on the Twenty ninth day of April at Thornliebank after Banns according to the Forms of the Established Church of Scotland. David Coubrough, Printfields Labourer, Bachelor, 25, Thornliebank, [son of] Robert Coubrough, Cotton Cloth Lapper, dec. [and] Mary Coubrough, Formerly Gunn, M.S. Sandalands [married] Mary Smith, Printfields Worker, 20, Thornliebank, [daughter of] James Smith, House Painter, [and] Isabella Gunn. [The ceremony was performed by] George Campbell, Minister of Eastwood, [and witnessed by] Samuel Jack and Annie Carrey.

From this I was able to garner the following:

David Coubrough (25 years old and from Thornliebank, employed as a Printfields Labourer), son of Robert (deceased and formerly employed as a Cotton Cloth Lapper) and Mary Sandalands (whose original surname was Gunn) MARRIED Mary Smith (20 years old and also a Printfields Worker from Thornliebank), daughter of James Smith (a house painter) and Isabella Gunn.  David and Mary probably worked together at the same textile mill (a Printfields Labourer was a factory  worker who dyed and printed calico cloth).  Robert Coubrough apparently also worked in a textile mill as a “Cotton Cloth Lapper” – one who moved the yarn from the carding machine to the next process in weaving.  That is A LOT of information from one church marriage record!

I found even more great records when I moved to the Canadian (Newfoundland side of the family) — again being able to find church records paid off and yielded quite a bit of information.

In searching for a Monday article, I came across a story I originally meant to put under a “Massacre, Murder and Mayhem Monday” theme (hard to resist that alliteration!).  But, there is so much negativity going on in the world at the moment, I just couldn’t bring myself to make that big of a “splash” with the story.

The massacre story is one I ran across some time ago while researching a friend and her husband’s ancestry (I wrote about her family history and being related to Benjamin Franklin here).

Lively Springs Massacre

In 1810 two brothers-in-law, John Lively and David Huggins, were living in the northeast part of Randolph County, Illinois (Illinois had just been carved out as a territory in 1809), and near the southeast part of St. Clair County.  By all accounts they seemed to be prospering as farmers and cattlemen, so much so they needed to find bigger pastures at a place called Crooked Creek.

Everything seemed to go very well until the spring of 1813 when Indian raids became more frequent, perhaps as a result of America’s “second war for independence”, also known as the War of 1812.  Again, America was fighting the British, plus the Indians, which the British deliberately encouraged to carry out raids against Americans.

For a time the two families were protected by a military unit in the area, but when the depredations became more frequent, Lively and Huggins began to discuss whether they should leave and move back to Randolph County (at this time they were likely the only settlers in the area).  David Huggins decided it best to leave, but John Lively decided to stay.

Lively and his family lived peacefully for awhile, but in July of 1813 he began to notice his cattle growing restless at night, a sure sign of Indians in the area.  This time Lively decided to take no chances with his family’s safety and hastily prepared to leave – but not hastily enough it seems.

While his wife and daughters milked the cows, John sent his son and nephew to round up the horses.  As his son and nephew started in the direction of the horses, they heard gunfire.  Running back they found their home overrun with Indians who were massacring (and scalping) their family members.  The two young men were powerless to help and managed to escape – at least that’s the family legend since some of the information may never have been fully authenticated.

Nevertheless, it was a gruesome incident and a cautionary tale of settlers attempting to stand alone against renegade Indians (with perhaps prodding from the British).  David Huggins, however, eventually returned to the tragic place in 1816, living there the rest of his life.  I believe that David Huggins may be an ancestor of my friend’s husband.

I know that his second great grandmother was Hannah Huggins Charles.  It’s likely her father’s name was Patrick and I’m supposing he was David’s son, although I haven’t found the proof yet.  If not an ancestor, I’m quite sure there is some sort of relation.  It’s always fascinating to relate such an historic event to a family I am researching.

More “Back-Door” Research

I wrote a few weeks ago about some “back-door” research I did in trying to locate the family of a friend who had been adopted (read the article here).  I had another “back-door” incident this summer with my own family research.

I had long thought I knew who my third great grandfather on the Hall side was, but had begun to doubt whether it was absolutely correct.  Even after locating a census record which I thought was my great-great grandfather William Marion Rupe, I wasn’t thoroughly convinced because of another record (a photograph) I found which cast a bit of doubt on that assumption.

In July I went to New Mexico and visited with my Aunt Joy who is in possession of many family artifacts, including old family Bibles.  Interestingly, I received the confirmation of the identity of my great-great-great grandfather from a story ABOUT the Bible.  Every family researcher knows that Bible records can be a treasure trove of information.

The Bible she showed me had been given to my great-great grandmother Mary Ellen (Cochrell) Rupe (William Marion’s wife) by her sister-in-law.  From the story my aunt told me about the Bible, and an obituary tucked inside it, I was able to confirm who William Marion Rupe’s father was by tracing the married name of his sister with records back to their father George Washington Rupe.

To my fellow researchers – be relentless, keep digging and don’t discount trivial or seemingly useless information – you just never know what it might lead to.  Oh, and, by the way, have an awesome week!

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

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© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.
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Hymnspiration: Rock of Ages

HymnspirationLogoThe words of today’s hymn were written in 1763 by Reverend Augustus Montague Toplady and first published in The Gospel Magazine in 1775 or 1776.  Some believe the hymn was inspired after Toplady, while traveling and caught in a storm, sought refuge in a gorge in Burrington Combe, England – but no real proof exists and many historians doubt the validity of this “legend”.

AugustusTopladyAugustus Montague Toplady was born in Surrey, England on November 4, 1740 to parents Richard and Catherine Toplady.  It is thought that perhaps his father Richard was from Ireland and had entered the Royal Marines as a commissioned officer in 1739.  Richard, however, likely died of yellow fever during the Battle of Carthegena in 1741, leaving Catherine to raise her son alone.

Little is known about his early years, except that around 1755 Augustus and his mother moved to Ireland where he enrolled at Trinity College in Dublin.   In August of that year he was said to have heard Reverend James Morris, possibly a follower of Methodist John Wesley, preach a sermon.  At this time Augustus experienced his own personal conversion to Christ, marveling years later he wrote the following:

Strange that I, who had long sat under the means of grace in England, should be brought right with God in an obscure part of Ireland, midst a handful of people met together in a barn, and by the ministry of one who could hardly spell his own name.  Surely it was the Lord’s doing and is marvellous.

There is some controversy over the theology that Toplady embraced.  Many believe that he initially followed the teachings of the Wesleys, but later renounced, even mocked, the Wesleys in favor of Calvinism, which it appears he embraced in the late 1750’s and held to the rest of his life.  In the book 101 Hymn Stories, author Kenneth W. Osbeck relates that Toplady and the Wesleys carried on “theological warfare” via public debates, sermons and pamphlets.

Referring to John Wesley, Toplady once had this to say:

I believe him to be the most rancorous hater of the gospel system that ever appeared in this Island . . . Wesley is guilty of Satanic shamelessness . . . of uniting the sophistry of a Jesuit with the authority of a pope. (101 Hymn Stories)

Ouch!  John Wesley countered with the following: “I dare not speak of the deep things of God in the spirit of a prize fighter or a stage player, and I not fight with chimney sweeps.”

Several years after the hymn was written by Toplady, it was published in The Gospel Magazine.  He linked it to the subject of England’s national debt, concluding his article with the hymn to “prove his argument that even as England could never pay her national debt, so man through his own efforts could never satisfy the eternal justice of a holy God.”  The hymn at that time was entitled “A Living and Dying Prayer for the Holiest Believer in the World” (101 Hymn Stories).

Osbeck believed that even the words Toplady penned constituted more mocking – “satirical swipes” he called them – of the Wesleys’ teachings.  As he explained:

Some of the expressions in Toplady’s hymn text are quite obviously satirical swipes at such Wesleyan teachings as the need for contrite and remorseful repentance and the Arminian concept of sanctification – the belief that it is possible for any believer to live without consciously sinning and thereby to find the promised “rest,” the state of moral perfection as described in Hebrews 4:9.  Note Toplady’s rebuttal in the second stanza:

Could my tears forever flow,
Could my zeal no languor know,
These for sin could not atone
Thou must save, and Thou alone.

I noticed that there seems to be more than one version of the hymn, so through the years some of the words have likely been modified to a certain extent (some versions have four stanzas).  Here is one three-stanza version:

Rock of ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Save from wrath and make me pure.

Could my tears forever flow,
Could my zeal no languor know,
These for sin could not atone
Thou must save, and Thou alone.
In my hand no price I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling.

While I draw this fleeting breath,
When my eyes shall close in death,
When I rise to worlds unknown
And behold Thee on Thy throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.

Augustus Toplady never married and by all accounts was a forceful and zealous preacher of the Gospel, firm in his Calvinist beliefs until the end.  He contracted tuberculosis at age thirty-eight and died on August 11, 1778.  The hymn is most often sung today to the tune of “Toplady”, so named in honor of the lyricist, composed by Thomas Hastings in 1830.

ThomasHastingsThomas Hastings was born on October 15, 1784 in Washington, Connecticut.  Born an albino, Hastings suffered eye problems most of his life, yet managed to become a prolific composer and hymn writer.  Although he had little formal musical training, perhaps just naturally gifted, Hastings received an honorary Doctor of Music in 1858 from the University of the City of New York.

Thomas Hastings is credited with being one of the most influential people who helped develop church music in the United States.  He also compiled and published several hymnals and edited the Musical Magazine.  Thomas Hastings died on May 15, 1872.

Rock of Ages has long been regarded as one of the most popular hymns ever written.  As Osbeck concludes in the hymn’s chapter:

It is encouraging to realize that, despite the original belligerent intent behind this text, God in His providence has chosen to preserve this hymn for the past two hundred years so that congregations of both Calvinistic and Arminian theological persuasion can sing this hymn with spiritual profit and blessing.

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

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© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.
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Surname Saturday: Munger

MungerCrest  There at least two schools of thought regarding the origins of today’s surname.  Ultimately, it appears to me that its origins were most likely Germanic, although the first settlers who came to America in the 1630’s came directly from England.  Two sources indicate the name had English origins with different meanings, and they state:

  • An English variant of Monger (Dictionary of American Family Names).
  • *The name was brought to England during the Norman Conquest of 1066 and was a locational name “of de la Monceau”, meaning hill or mound.  In the thirteenth century records show two people, one named Robert de Muncella in County Wiltshire and another named Robert de Munceaux in County Norfolk (

For the English theory, spelling variations of the name might include “Monger”, “Mungor” or “Mounger” (and probably others).

The other source, House of Names, traces the name back to its Germanic origins.  Their theory is that the name derives from the German word “ungarn” which means “someone from Hungary (a Magyar).”  The name, was first seen in Bohemia, “where the name was closely identified in early medieval times with the feudal society that played a prominent role throughout European history.  Bearers of Munger would later emerge as a noble family with great influence, having many distinguished branches, and become noted for involvement in social, economic and political affairs.”

Spelling variations of the German surname include Unger, Ungerer, Ungarer, Ungare, Ungars, Ungers, Ungert and many more, according to House of Names.

If true regarding Germanic roots, why did the first Munger immigrating to America come from England and not Germany?  In 1915, the Munger family history was published by J.B. Munger of Springfield, Massachusetts, spanning the years from 1639, when J.B.’s ancestor Nicholas Munger arrived, until 1914.

J.B. believed that Nicholas was “the individual personally responsible for our being here.” He further explained:

As to the individual, I have answered: NICHOLAS MUNGER.  As to the nationality, English; evolved through the “melting pot” from several of the Teutonic tribes who came across from the far east of Europe, gradually moving westward.  The historian has said that “The tribes which later constituted the German nation, lived along the shores of the Caspian Sea.  The vanguard of the tribes which swept across the middle of Europe from Asia to the West, were the Celts.  After them came the Teutonic tribes, and the hard crowded Celts were forced out upon the westernmost edge of Europe, across the channel to the British Isles, where they are represented to this day by the Welsh, the Irish, and the Highland Scots.”

Immigration records, at least those of the nineteenth century, seem to lean more heavily in favor of Germanic origins (Germany, Switzerland and Bohemia), this according to New York passenger lists.  Nevertheless, J.B. Munger believed that the majority of those bearing the Munger surname at the time his research was published were directly descended from Nicholas Munger, an Englishman.  Oh, and he had his own theory as to the name’s meaning as well:

Monger: Anglo-Saxon Mancgere.  Originally a merchant of the highest class. Aelfric’s Mancgere is represented as trading in purple and silk; gold, wine, oil &c.  The Mancgere (merchant) of Saxon times was a much more important personage than those who, in our day, bear the name.  He was the prototype of the merchant princes of the nineteenth century; he was a dealer in many things which the ships-men brought from many lands.” (From English Surnames)

Admittedly, J.B. Munger was aware that the name was seen among English, German and the Dutch (with various spellings).  A Swedish variation of the name would be “Mungerson.”  He related a story that a United States government official, once visiting Geneva, Switzerland, was told his name (Munger) was German and was to be written as “Münger” which would have rendered the pronunciation of the “u” as “e” or “ew”.

He stated he had never attempted “researches on the ‘other side,’ but have confined our labors to this country [England].  We know the first arrival came from England; that he spelled his name MUNGER, as did his children and grandchildren, and following generations, and as it is yet spelled by his descendants in the territory where he first established himself in AMERICA as a ‘Freeman.’”

Nicholas Munger

J.B. Munger claimed to have very little definitive information regarding Nicholas.  Although his name did not appear in ship passenger records, many believed that Nicholas came to America with the Henry Whitfield colony and was apprenticed to William Chittenden, a member of the company which settled the town of Guilford, Connecticut.

In 1652 Nicholas took the Oath of Fidelity and became a Freeman.  In that day one had to have attained the age of at least twenty-one before being granted such status, so perhaps Nicholas was born around 1630 or 1631.  He was referred to in Henry Goldham’s will as a son-in-law, which could have also meant step-son, according to J.B. Munger.  Given the fact that Nicholas later married, the step-son theory seems the most plausible.

Nicholas married Sarah Hall on June 2, 1659 at Guilford and died on October 16, 1668 after he and Sarah had two sons, John and Samuel, in the early 1660’s.

Asahel Munger

Asahel Munger was born in Fairhaven, Connecticut in 1805 to parents Daniel and Eunice Munger.  J.B. Munger had very little to say about Asahel in his book, but history records that Asahel met a tragic end around 1840 while serving as a missionary.

In the preface to his published diary, it indicates that Asahel and his wife Eliza were sent out from the North Litchfield Congregational Association of Connecticut and left for the journey west from Oberlin, Ohio.  They were sent out as missionaries in 1839 with fellow missionary J.S. Griffin to the Oregon Territory.  They were said to have traveled with fur trappers and wintered with Marcus Whitman, a missionary to the Cayuse Indians.

Asahel began a journal on May 4, 1839, essentially a long letter to his mother which detailed their arduous journey.  Eliza was sick quite a bit and along the way they encountered bands of Indians in late May.  However, on June 1 Asahel recorded that they hadn’t been “molested at all by the Indians.”

It appears that their journey continued seven days a week, perhaps even on the Sabbath.  Asahel would often record the Sabbath as “a dreary day”.  On June 9, “this is a gloomy Sabbath only for the presence of Jesus.”  A week later he wrote again of a dreary Sabbath:

Oh how we need a Sabbath, our hunters went out to kill game, slaughtered 2 Buffalo and one Elk either of which had more meat than was consumed. The trust of my soul is in God.  I will lean on Him.  It is good to get near Him in time of trouble.

On June 30, they traveled on, Asahel communing with God as he traveled along.  By July 7 they had reached the encampment of the American Fur Company and had the opportunity to have church services, preaching to both white men and Indians.

Marcus_WhitmanAfter learning that Marcus Whitman was in need of a carpenter, Asahel struck a deal and the Mungers would spend the winter with the Whitmans.  Their relationship was cemented early on – Whitman’s wife Narcissa declaring, “It seems as if the Lord’s hand was in it in sending Mr. and Mrs. Munger here just at this time, and I know not how to feel grateful enough.”

The missionary board that was sponsoring the Whitmans warned, however, against fraternizing with so-called “independent” missionaries.  Still, Marcus found the Mungers to be quite useful in service to his own mission.  He wrote his board that: “He is a good house carpenter.  In that time I hope he will finish our house & make some comfortable furniture & some farming implements.”

The Whitmans, notwithstanding their Board’s warnings, seemed to be pleased with their association with the Mungers.  However, a few months later something went wrong – Asahel seemed to have gone quite mad.  Narcissa wrote a friend: “Our Brother Munger is perfectly insane and we are tried to know how to get along with him.”

Marcus concluded that the Mungers must be sent home.  “He has become an unsafe man to remain about the Mission as he holds himself as the representative of the church & often having revelations.”  However, by this time the fur caravans were no longer operating and no one could be found to escort the Mungers back East.  By this time, Asahel and Eliza also had a young child.

Instead of heading back East, the Mungers traveled further west to the Willamette Valley with two other missionary families.  The move apparently did nothing to improve Asahel’s mental state.  Just before Christmas of 1840, Asahel died after “attempting to demonstrate a miracle by driving nails into his hands, then burning them in the fire”, according to the National Park Service web site.

What caused Asahel to lose his sanity is unknown, and certainly a tragic tale given how his life ended.  Eliza married Henry Buxton not long afterwards it appears, perhaps in 1841.  The Whitmans later met their own tragic end in 1847 (look for that story one day on this blog).

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

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© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.
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Re-Re-Writing History: Who Was Really First — Ever Hear of Laura Bridgman?

LauraBridgman1I spend so much time reading and researching history for the blog that I often run across facts that I had never heard of before – not surprising.  While I’m delighted to learn a new piece of history, I sometimes wonder why I’ve never heard about it until now.  I’d always been led to believe, for instance, that Helen Keller was the first blind and deaf child to be successfully educated.  While her accomplishments were many and she overcame much adversity, later becoming a celebrated advocate for the disabled, Helen Keller was not the first.  That distinction belonged to Laura Bridgman – born more than fifty years before Keller.

Laura Bridgman was born on December 21, 1829 to parents Daniel and Harmony Bridgman.  She was a sickly child and at the age of two years contracted scarlet fever; two of her older sisters died and Laura was left deaf, sightless and with no sense of smell or taste – only one of her senses, touch, remained.

While her mother made sure she was well-groomed and cared for, little attention was paid to her by the rest of the family.  According to Elizabeth Gitter, author of The Imprisoned Guest: Samuel Howe and Laura Bridgman, The Original Deaf-Blind Girl, Laura was befriended by Asa Tenney, a hired man who worked for her father, who himself had some sort of communication difficulty.  He was aware of the use of a type of sign language by Native Americans and taught Laura some form of communication during her formative years.

In 1837, Laura’s disabilities were brought to the attention of Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe (who later married Julia Ward, author of The Battle Hymn of the Republic, who herself curiously had no sympathy for the disabled), founder of the Perkins Institution for the Blind in Boston.  He had been told by medical associates who observed Laura that despite her severe disabilities was adept at sewing and knitting and other household chores such as setting the dinner table.  As recorded Dr. R.D. Mussey, in Mary Swift Lamson’s book The Deaf, Dumb and Blind Girl:

She sets the dinner-table, laying the plates and knives and forks in their places and in number corresponding with the number of the family.  The particular plate and knife and fork used by her little brother she is sure to put in the right place.

Mussey observed that Laura enjoyed wearing nice clothes: “her fondness for dress is as remarkable as that of any child that can see.”  She was observed to have a pleasant disposition and he also commented on Laura’s loss of her other senses – in particular taste.  Dr. Mussey said he had easily persuaded her to take “the most disgusting medicines.”

Dr. Howe was anxious to meet and have the chance to educate Laura, and on October 12, 1837, two months before her eighth birthday, Laura Bridgman arrived at Perkins.  As one would imagine, Laura experienced some trauma after being taken from her family and placed in a strange environment, but soon formed a bond with Lydia Hall Drew, one of her teachers.

Dr. Howe believed that Laura could be taught a “tactile sign language” and developed a plan to teach her to both read and write by touch.  To his knowledge, that had never been attempted (but, remember Laura had already had some tactile training with Asa Tenney).  Whether or not Howe had ever heard of Louis Braille who had developed a tactile writing system for the blind in 1824, is unclear  since Braille’s system was first adapted for the French language.

By 1839, however, Dr. Howe was quite pleased with Laura’s progress as noted in his annual report to trustees of Perkins: “[T]he process of teaching her is of course slow and tedious; the different steps to it must be suggested by successive attainments, for there are no precedents to go by; but thus far the results have been most gratifying.”

He reported that Laura had “attained great dexterity in the use of the Manual Alphabet of the deaf mutes; and she spells out the words and sentences which she knows, so fast and so deftly, that only those accustomed to this language can follow with the eye, the rapid motions of her fingers.”  Clearly, although severely disabled, Laura was intelligent and gifted.

One aspect that Howe and the instructors at the institution were unsure of was her sense of morality, or right and wrong.  When Laura was eleven years old, Howe devised an experiment, perhaps curious himself, to determine whether one’s notions of God and morality come naturally or are transmitted by other people.  Howe instructed her teachers to deflect any questions Laura might ask about God and religion.

Interestingly, the experiment commenced just after Samuel married Julia Ward and left for an eighteen month-long honeymoon in Europe.  Howe had already formed of bond with Laura, so that alone left her feeling abandoned to a certain extent.  Also, according to Rosemary Mahoney, author of For the Benefit of Those Who See: Dispatches From the World of the Blind, Laura’s mother had stopped corresponding, further isolating her.

Laura was left in the care of Mary Swift, a Christian teacher, who eventually came to question Dr. Howe’s directive to deflect her charge’s questions about religion.  There were several troubling incidences, Laura even expressing defiance at times.  Laura kept asking her teacher why she could not know.

After a group of evangelical Christians visited the school, Howe’s request was ignored and Laura freely received a concentrated, if brief, introduction to evangelical Christianity (her own family was of the Baptist faith).  When Howe discovered his instructions had been ignored, he was devastated.

Curiously, this caused Dr. Howe to turn against Laura.  His “star” pupil was now a disappointment to him.  However, Laura had indeed excelled and was actually quite well known, although apparently she wasn’t aware of any of the attention showered on her via the various books, journals and articles.  One source said that she was as popular and well-known as Queen Victoria.

Laura Bridgman was fortunate to have come to the attention of Dr. Samuel Howe, although he eventually became disenchanted with his “project”, but also unfortunate because she lived during a time in history when, as Ernest Freeberg, author of The Education of Laura Bridgman put it, she was “a freak of nature who captured the attention of society that was hungry for spectacle.”  This was during the era when sensationalist extraordinaire P.T. Barnum traveled the world showing off his “exotic” and “scientific curiosities” such as Mr. and Mrs. Tom Thumb, the Fiji Mermaid and more.  I found one reference to Laura, listing her occupation as “Oddity.”

Upon founding the Perkins Institution, Howe had firmly believed that blindness need not be a handicap.  However, in his Sixteenth Annual Report, he had radically, and inexplicably, changed those views.  Using uppercase letters he wrote: “THE BLIND, AS A CLASS, ARE INFERIOR TO OTHER PERSONS IN MENTAL POWER AND ABILITY.”  Later in the report he went on to suggest that perhaps parents of blind children themselves possessed some sort of mental deficiency that had been passed down.

Dr. Howe’s confusing turnaround aside, Laura Bridgman had successfully learned to write her name legibly by the summer of 1839.  The following summer she had her first math lesson.  One has to wonder if the increasing attention that Laura was gaining was somehow offensive to Howe.  In 1842, Charles Dickens had visited and offered praise for the progress that Howe had made with his star pupil in American Notes:

Her social feelings, and her affections, are very strong; and when she is sitting at work, or by the side of one of her little friends, she will break off from her task every few moments, to hug and kiss them with an earnestness and warmth that is touching to behold. When left alone, she occupies and apparently amuses herself, and seems quite content; and so strong seems to be the natural tendency of thought to put on the garb of language, that she often soliloquizes in the finger language, slow and tedious as it is. But it is only when alone, that she is quiet; for if she becomes sensible of the presence of any one near her, she is restless until she can sit close beside them, hold their hand, and converse with them by sign.

Following Dickens’ account, Laura became basically world-famous.  Hundreds of people visited Perkins, clamoring for anything they might remember her by.  Numerous newspaper and magazine articles and editorials were written about her.  Crowds would gather on Saturdays, the only day the school was open to the public, to watch her read and “perform”.  She seemed to love the adulation, but it was concerning to the teachers that she alone received such attention to the exclusion of other students at the school.

DrHoweAndLauraThroughout the years of her education, Laura suffered some emotional losses.  Of course, one was losing the confidence and friendship of Dr. Howe who treated her more or less like a daughter.  She would become attached to her teachers and they too came and went over the years.  After her last teacher, Sarah Wight, left to marry in 1850, Laura’s formal education ended.  Howe had years before made provisions for Laura to remain at the school for the rest of her life is she so chose.

Sarah_Wight_and_Laura_Bridgman  Laura decided to return home to reunite with her family, but became homesick for the school.  She had experienced anorexia in 1845, and as a result of her missing the school environment, she again lost weight.  Howe sent a teacher to bring Laura back to the school.  Her health improved somewhat but the public attention had waned considerably.

By 1852 she had fully embraced her family’s Baptist faith and was baptized.  She spent time in prayer and meditation and would sometimes write spiritually-themed poetry.  She wrote letters to family and friends, read the Braille Bible, kept in contact with Mary Swift and Sarah Wight and sewed.  Her sewing and crocheting earned her a small amount of money, about one hundred dollars a year, yet she was still largely dependent on the kindness of Dr. Howe and the school to cover the expenses of her room and board.

While she herself never became a teacher at the school, although probably qualified to do so, she taught young blind women how to sew.  In 1872 the campus was renovated and Laura was moved to another house (for years she had been afforded a private room) where she was befriended by none other than Anne Sullivan, who would later become the teacher famous for patiently helping Helen Keller thrive despite her disabilities.

Samuel Howe died in 1876 but he had made sure that Laura would continue to be taken care of for the rest of her life.  The school held a jubilee celebration for her in 1887.  In 1889 she became ill and died on May 24.  Buried near the family farm in Hanover, New Hampshire, her grave stone reads:

December 21, 1829 – May 24, 1889


HelenKeller_AnneSullivanPart of Laura Bridgman’s legacy, of course, included Helen Keller, the person who greatly benefited from her relationship with Laura’s friend Anne Sullivan.  Helen Keller’s mother had read Charles Dickens’ American Notes and eventually hired Sullivan to educate her daughter.  According to Elizabeth Gitter, Anne Sullivan, who had learned the manual alphabet at the Perkins Institution and which she later taught Helen, brought along a doll whose clothing had been sewn by none other than Laura Bridgman.  As author Rosemary Mahoney related in her book, “toward the end of her life, Annie Sullivan stated that she had ‘always believed Laura Bridgman to be intellectually superior to Helen Keller.'”

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

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© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.
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Book Review Thursday: 50 Children

50ChildrenUnfortunately for Jewish Europeans, the United States had adopted strict immigration laws in 1932 as a result of the Great Depression.  Immigration laws had steadily been tightened, however, since the late nineteenth century.

By early 1939 the situation in Europe was becoming more desperate as Adolph Hitler continued his rampage throughout the continent.  Hitler was certainly an enemy of the Jews but it also seemed like the whole world was indifferent to their plight as well.  Some Jewish organizations in the United States, however, were undeterred by the strict immigration laws.

Author Steven Pressman’s book is based on an HBO documentary, and it tells the true story of Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus and their daring attempt to save fifty Jewish children and bring them to the United States.  The book expands on the one-hour documentary and includes more details, including excerpts from Eleanor’s unpublished memoir.  Also included are photographs and interviews of some of the children who were rescued.

Their hope was that the children would eventually be reunited with their birth families, but tragically some of the parents died in concentration camps.  Fortunately, most of the children had connections to extended family members already in America.

It was an arduous project that Brith Shalom took on, spear-headed by the Krauses, and a race against time.  There were voluminous amounts of paperwork and details that all had to fall into place. Anyone with an interest in World War II or the Holocaust would find this a fascinating read about a harrowing time in history.

Rating:  ★★★★

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

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© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.
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