Posted tagged ‘Pittsford Cemetery’

Merritt Wells: He Died Among Strangers

February 19, 2015

The Land of the Forgotten haunts my dreams.  As an historian, it is my job to uncover the past and preserve it for the future.  My passion for delving into newspaper archives and burial records has allowed me to get a bird’s eye glimpse into past lives by researching births, marriages and deaths.  A sense of satisfaction comes when I am able to pull together a picture of a full life which was well-lived.  However, it is the stories of heartbreak that stay with me and for which I have an overwhelming desire to share; stories that preserve the histories of those long dead whose potential went unfulfilled and who lie unremembered under the cold earth.

Merritt Wells has one of those unforgettable stories, and so I will share it with you and illuminate the difficult life of a young man who died, much too soon, among strangers.

My introduction to Merritt Wells was accidental.  During my research into Pittsford resident George Lash, I came across a brief paragraph in a 1902 newspaper which mentioned the funeral of young Merritt Wells, who had recently died “at the home of George Lash, among perfect strangers”.  An aunt of Merritt’s had come to Pittsford from Gloversville, New York, and was the only relative present at the funeral.  As she was unable to take the body to his home, Merritt was buried at Pittsford Cemetery.

My heart broke for Merritt, and I had to learn more about him.  Fortunately, I found several additional newspaper articles in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, Fairport’s Monroe County Mail and in the Gloversville Daily Leader which gave me some insight into Merritt’s untimely demise.

On February 5, 1902, one day after Merritt’s death, the Gloversville Daily Leader reported that Police Chief Sperber had received a dispatch from Pittsford with the brief message, “Merritt Wells dead here.  Relatives in Gloversville.  Notify and Answer”.  The following day, the Daily Leader announced that an aunt, Mrs. William Herring, and an uncle, H. A. Satterlee, both of Gloversville, had been found.  A grandmother was also located living in Kingston, New York, and it was learned that the family had roots in Ulster County, New York.

Subsequent newspaper articles told Merritt’s story in bits and pieces.  He was an orphan who had lived with his grandmother until she became unable to care for him.  Merritt had then gone to Buffalo with a friend and worked on a lake steamer, from which he was able to save $125 of his earnings.  The “friend” stole his money, and Merritt decided he had to return home to Gloversville.  He spent some time at the rescue mission in Rochester before arriving at George Lash’s home in Pittsford, where he asked for shelter.  During the week that Merritt stayed with the Lash family, George found him to be a respectable young man whose speech and manner indicated he was a man of intelligence and good breeding.  Merritt was grateful to have a place to live, and willingly helped with the farm work.

By the evening of Tuesday, February 4, 1902, it became clear that Merritt was quite unwell.  George proposed a visit to the hospital in Rochester for the following day, and Merritt agreed to go.  That evening, Merritt was so weak he asked George to carry the lamp to his room so he could retire for the evening.  After returning downstairs, George heard a loud crash and rushed to Merritt’s room to find him lying, dying, on the floor.  Merritt’s struggle for life ended just moments later.  Seventeen-year old Merritt Wells was buried at Pittsford Cemetery on February 9, 1902.  Monroe County Coroner Killip granted a certificate of death for acute consumption.

After locating census records, I learned that Merritt had been born in June, 1884.  The 1900 federal census of Shandaken, in Ulster County, New York, shows fifteen-year old Merritt working as a farm laborer for Charles Lamson.  Merritt’s aunt Elmina Satterlee Herring, who had attended his funeral in Pittsford, was a daughter of William Satterlee and his wife, Anna Maria Myers Satterlee.  It’s logical to assume that Merritt’s mother was another daughter of William and Anna Maria’s.  A quick check of the records shows they had two other daughters who are unaccounted for – Charlotte, born c 1849 and Ina, born c 1865.  I could find no record of Merritt’s father.

On December 28, 1901, Merritt was picked up by the police in Monroe County, New York, and charged with being a tramp.  He was sentenced to 30 days in the Monroe County Penitentiary.  It would have been soon after he was released that Merritt found his way to George Lash’s farm in Pittsford.

So many questions about Merritt remain unanswered.  Who were his parents?  Did he have siblings?  Why didn’t one of his aunts or uncles take him in after the death of his parents?  How long was he on his own?  Is he still buried at Pittsford Cemetery?  He is not listed in the cemetery burial records.  Did a family member bring him home?  Was he loved?

I haven’t been able to answer these questions, but maybe you can help.  If you have any information about Merritt Wells, please contact me.  I’d love to learn more about this poor boy who died among strangers.

 

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Hero Highlight – Harvey E. Light, Co. E, 10th Michigan Cavalry

January 7, 2012

A visit to Major Harvey E. Light’s grave always draws a captive audience when Audrey Johnson and I give our annual Pittsford Cemetery tour in May.  However, this year we managed to elicit gasps from the crowd when it was announced that a descendant of Major Light was in our midst.  Doug Light, Harvey’s great-great grandson, had traveled from his home in Texas to attend the tour.  This was Doug’s first trip to Pittsford, where he had come to pay tribute to the man so many admired.

Harvey E. Light’s story began in 1834, when he was born at Fishkill-on-the-Hudson, the first child of blacksmith James Light and his wife, Maria Devine.  The family moved to Fairport when Harvey was an infant.  At a young age, Harvey left school to help support the family by working on the farm of Jesse Whitney, currently the location of the Fairport Baptist Home.  He also worked on the Webster farm in Pittsford.    Harvey may have met his future wife, Mary Helen Shepard, during this time.  Mary Helen’s father, Sylvester Shepard, was an early settler to Pittsford with his brother, William Shepard.

In 1852, James sold his land in Fairport to Daniel B. DeLand and moved the family, now consisting of nine children, to Greenville, Michigan.  Harvey followed the family to Michigan in the mid-1850s where he worked as a nurseryman.  Eventually, he bought his own farm and expanded his nursery business to include 300 acres of pine trees.  Harvey returned to New York in 1861 to wed Mary Helen Shepard at the First Presbyterian Church in Pittsford.  Together, they traveled to Michigan where Harvey was elected Sheriff of Montcalm County.

Soon after the birth of his first child in July 1863, Harvey was given permission to raise a company to join in the war effort.  He hired a bugler, a snare drummer and a bass drummer to help “drum up” interest in the war enlistment meetings which were held throughout the area.  Company E, 10th Michigan Cavalry went off to war with the newly commissioned Captain Harvey E. Light at its helm.

Major Harvey E. Light, 10th Michigan Cavalry

Much of Harvey’s time with the 10th Michigan Cavalry was spent in the Knoxville, Tennessee, area.  After a time, Harvey was sent back to Michigan to recruit more men.  He must have been quite persuasive, for he managed to enlist his brother Dewitt to join Co. E.  Younger brothers Edward and George served in the 8th Michigan Infantry.  Amazingly, all four Light boys survived the war.  Harvey E. Light was promoted to Major before mustering out on November 11, 1865.

Four more sons and a daughter were born to the Lights in the years following the Civil War.  The family moved to Massachusetts in 1873, where Harvey had purchased a foundry, but returned to Pittsford several years later.  They lived on the Shepard family homestead on East Avenue, which has since been razed.  Harvey was very active in the community, serving throughout the years as an active member of the First Presbyterian church, a census taker, Grange member and Commander of the G.A.R. EJ Tyler Post #288, an organization composed of Civil War veterans.

Harvey continued to live on his farm after the death of his wife in 1902.  It was there that Major Harvey E. Light died on September 17, 1921.  He was buried at Pittsford Cemetery on his 87th birthday.  A newspaper article announcing Major Harvey E. Light’s death stated that “…in his character were to be found, in a large degree, the attributes of the gentlemen of the old school – courtesy, politeness, thoughtfulness for the welfare and successfulness of others, combined with sterling integrity…the example to be found in his life is one that might well be emulated by the young men of this generation.”

This article was originally published in the Fall 2011 issue of the Historic Pittsford newsletter.

Looking Back While Facing Forward

January 1, 2011

The end of the year brings reflection as we put to rest one year while looking ahead to a new beginning.  I’ll always remember 2010 as an incredible year for my Civil War soldiers project, as well as for the start of some new research projects. 

Martha Jewett & Evan Marshall visit Mary Jewett Telford's grave

In January, I met a descendant of one of my Civil War veterans.  Martha Jewett is the second great-grandniece of Civil War nurse Mary Jewett Telford.  Martha and her husband, Evan Marshall, drove to Fairport to attend my Illuminated History presentation for the Perinton Historical Society.  After Martha and Evan returned home, we spent a frantic two weeks emailing and calling each other in order to meet the deadline for Mary Jewett Telford’s nomination to the National Women’s Hall of Fame.  We will soon hear whether we were successful in our endeavor.

With February came a slight shift in my research, as I began to study the World War I soldiers of Pittsford.  February was also memorable as it was the first time I have formally interviewed a research subject.  Bill Cooper, a World War II veteran and survivor of the Battle of the Bulge, was my assignment.  Bill is a member of American Legion Rayson-Miller Post 899.  The stories he shared about his military experience and life with his wife, Margaret, were 

Bill Cooper, World War II vet

 inspiring.  I also had the opportunity to meet with Philip G. Maples for the first time.  Phil is the Director Emeritus of the Rochester Medical Museum & Archives.  Since then, I have volunteered research time to the RMMA, as well as spent time with Phil, who is himself a Civil War researcher and enthusiast.  I proudly headed to school in February to hear my daughter make her first presentation by portraying Civil War nurse Mary Jewett Telford.

March rang in another opportunity to interview a Battle of the Bulge veteran.  This time it was Ed Kinnen, also a   member of Rayson-Miller.  Ed and his wife, Ellen, graciously invited me into their home so I could talk with Ed about his World War II service.  We share a common love of genealogy, and I was happy to hear them speak of their children and grandchildren and the importance of sharing the family history with them. 

Lynda Skaddan & Jane Andersen, Telford descendants

The next few months went by in a blur as I once again collaborated with Pittsford Town Historian Audrey Johnson for our annual Pittsford Cemetery tour in May.  Theo X. Rojo, who researches the men of the 13th NY Infantry and the 22nd NY Cavalry, contacted me in May and we have spent much time emailing back and forth regarding those units and others.  June was the pinnacle of excitement.  I gave a tour at Greenvale Cemetery for the Perinton Historical Society members.  I was so pleased to meet Cheri Branca, one of my online friends and fellow Find A Grave contributor, who attended the Greenvale tour with her husband, Matt.  Jane Andersen and Lynda Skaddan, descendants of Robert Telford, made a special trip to Fairport with Lynda’s husband Ray so I could meet them at Mary Jewett Telford’s grave to discuss her life.  Mary was wed to Robert’s younger brother, Jacob Telford.  In June, I also had the opportunity to meet Norman and John Henry Miller, who are the nephews of Henry L. Miller.  Henry was killed at Belleau Wood during World War I.  Norm and John are not only veterans themselves, but they come from a long line of men who served their country, beginning with their great-grandfather, Civil War veteran Henry L. Mueller.

Throughout the rest of 2010, I gave a presentation for the American Legion Rayson-Miller Post 899 and discussed the 

John and Norm Miller at the grave of their uncle, Henry L. Miller

early history of the post and its members.  Audrey Johnson and I hosted another tour of the Pioneer Burying Ground in October, and I started a Facebook page for Illuminated History.  However, I think the biggest thrill has been meeting the veterans’ descendants and other researchers, both in person, by phone and online.  I spoke by phone with John R. Bacon, grandson of WWI & WWII Lieutenant Colonel Howard Bacon and great-grandson of Civil War vet John Buckley Bacon, after emailing back and forth for several years.  I spoke with veteran David Retchless about his military service, as well as those of his brother, father and uncle.  Tyler Emery, the current owner of the Retchless military memorabilia, and I have corresponded via email and he has graciously shared photos of the contents of the trunk he owns.  At the Pioneer Burying Ground tour, I met Gail and Marilyn, the daughters of World War I vet Raymond L. Hulbert.  I’ve also had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Lloyd F. Allen’s daughters, Betty Anne and Katie, as well as his granddaughter, Elizabeth.  Dr. Allen, like his friend and neighbor Howard Bacon, had also served in both World Wars.

2010 was an extraordinary year.  Thank you for your interest in my project, and your appreciation for these veterans.  With your support, Illuminated History will continue to shine the light on these heroes for many years to come.

Picnic at the Polyandrium

July 8, 2010

Last week, my children asked to go on a picnic.  “Sounds like fun,” I replied.  So we packed up a picnic lunch and off we went.

“Where are we going for our picnic, Mom?  Are we going to the playground?” my son asked.  I couldn’t help but snicker.  Which child would be the first to guess our secret picnic location?  It turned out to be my oldest daughter.  As soon as we turned onto Golf Avenue she stated, rather timidly, “We’re going to the cemetery, aren’t we?”  I was surprised it took them so long to figure it out.

“You guessed it!  We’re going to Pittsford Cemetery for our picnic!  Won’t that be fun?”  The lack of an enthusiastic response hinted that perhaps a cemetery wasn’t their idea of a perfect picnic spot.  As we drove around the bend and parked on Maple Avenue beneath the shade of the large trees, their leaves swaying gently in the summer breeze, the kids perked up a little.  My original plan was to picnic by my Cook boys, Nathan and William, who died within weeks of each other in 1862.  However, their graves were in full sun so we settled in the shade just north of the boys, in front of the Knickerbocker plot.

As lunch and drinks were distributed, I told the kids about the time I met my Dad at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery on Lake Avenue and how we lunched at the grave of his Uncle George.  That is one of my favorite memories because Dad really opened up and talked about his family.  In the Victorian era, it was common for people to picnic at cemeteries.  They would stroll the lovely grounds and picnic by their loved ones who had passed on.   It was not considered at all odd or morbid as it seems to most people today.

After lunch was over, we cleaned up and then made the rounds to water the flowers I had planted for Memorial Day.  As the kids fed the flowers, they learned a little about Edwin J. Armstrong of the 33rd New York Infantry and his brother, James, who was a brakeman on the railroad.  The graves of Buckley and Frederica Bacon were next, followed by their son, Lieutenant Colonel Howard R. Bacon, a veteran of both World Wars, and his wife Elisabeth.  I told my children about William & Nathan Cook and their young siblings – Charles, Hannah, Mary Augusta and Ella. 

When we got in the van and started out of the cemetery, a smile lit my face as I heard my little one say, “Bye Nathan.  Bye William!”  These soldiers will be remembered, not only by me but by my children.  Mission accomplished.

Pittsford Cemetery Tour – Saturday, May 15, 2010 – 10:00 a.m.

May 11, 2010

Pittsford Cemetery Cannon and Flagpole

Pittsford Cemetery Tour – Saturday, May 15, 2010 – 10:00 a.m.

 

As I prepare for my upcoming tour of Pittsford Cemetery in Pittsford, New York, I am constantly amazed at the incredible lives led by the people who lived in our own neighborhoods.  Today, few Pittsford residents know the names of Major Harvey E. Light or John Buckley Bacon.  Yet these men were instrumental in shaping Pittsford into the village it is today.

On this year’s tour, we will once again discuss Harvey Light and John Bacon.  The Ambrose boys will also feature prominently.  Their rich Civil War history is too interesting to forget.  We will speak of some new soldiers as well.  The stories of Henry L. Mueller and his descendants, who fought in the Spanish-American War and World War I, will be told.  You’ll hear of Monroe County, New York’s “most decorated soldier” of World War II, Franklin Clarke Retchless, Jr.

Our tour begins Saturday, May 15, 2010 at 10:00 a.m. in the Pittsford Cemetery, which has two entrances on Washington Road, opposite Golf Avenue.  Please meet at the flagpole.  Wear comfortable shoes and be prepared for rain.  I look forward to seeing some old friends, and meeting many new friends!

 

Civil War Nurses and Cemetery Tours

March 26, 2010

The East Rochester – Fairport Post just published a story about our Civil War nurse, Mary Jewett Telford.  Check it out at http://www.fairport-erpost.com/yournews/x1526472626/Civil-War-nurse-remembered-during-national-Women-s-History-Month.  After spending several hours interviewing me and Wilkinson family descendant Floris Lent, reporter Denise Champagne wrote a great article highlighting the incredible achievements of Mary Jewett Telford.  Photographer Jack Haley contributed a beautiful photo of Floris looking through the Jewett family bible.  Thanks to Denise, Jack and the Messenger Post newspapers for a nice tribute to Mary.

My Pittsford Cemetery tour has been scheduled for Saturday, May 15th, at 10:00 a.m.  Additional information can be found on the Town of Pittsford website, www.townofpittsford.org.  Pittsford Town Historian Audrey Johnson will discuss the local notables buried at Pittsford Cemetery, while I speak about some of the Civil War soldiers who rest there. 

Greenvale Cemetery in Fairport, NY, is the location of my June 8th tour.  Additional information about the tour will soon be available on the Perinton Historical Society website, www.perintonhistoricalsociety.org.  Many of the commanders of the G.A.R. Post #211 post are buried there.

Exciting Illuminations to Come!

February 23, 2010

Although it has been over a month since I last posted, don’t think I am slacking off.  If anything, I am busier than ever planning more illuminations!

  • On Wednesday, I will interview a World War II veteran about his experiences during and after the war. 
  • Thursday’s agenda includes a meeting with the Pittsford Town Historian to discuss various research avenues.
  • I’ve been contacted by a local author who specializes in archives.  He wants to discuss the possibility of co-authoring an article with me about the Civil War.  My appointment with him is on Saturday. 
  • My tour at Pittsford Cemetery, co-hosted with Audrey Johnson, has been scheduled for Saturday, May 15, at 10:00 a.m.  I’m looking forward to seeing some of my old friends, and meeting new ones as well, as we delve into the lives of our local Civil War soldiers and other Pittsford notables.
  • Another cemetery tour, for the Perinton Historical Society, has just been scheduled for Tuesday, June 8, 7:00 p.m., at Greenvale Cemetery.
  • I am hard at work writing an article about Civil War nurse and Woman’s Relief Corps charter member Mary Jewett Telford for an upcoming issue of the Perinton Historical Society’s newsletter, the Historigram.
  • Genealogy is a daily part of my life.  If I am not researching my Civil War soldiers, then I am working on the genealogy of my friend, Floris A. Lent.  Amazingly, Floris has many Civil War soldiers in her family.  She is also related to Dr. Robert O. Wilson, a Methodist physician who was in Nanjing, China in the 1930s during the Nanjing Massacre. Not only that, Floris is also related to Susan B. Anthony on both sides of her family.   Some people have all the luck!

In the coming weeks and months, many changes will occur on Illuminated History.  Although my heart remains with my Pittsford Civil War boys, I will begin to illuminate other local history as well.  My research into the Perinton Civil War soldiers will be shared, as will my interviews with local World War II veterans.  I’m very excited to illuminate local history for you, and I welcome your comments and suggestions.  Please feel free to post a message on Illuminated History, or email me directly at vprofitt@rochester.rr.com.


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