Tuesday, August 9, 2016

When John Graves Isn't John Graves, and Walpole Isn't Walpole

For decades, the death date and place of  John Graves, father of Nathan Graves, has been widely circulated and accepted as 29 December 1766, in Walpole, now Cheshire Co., New Hampshire.  This date and location appeared in early published works and family group sheets about the Graves family, and was later copied to online family trees and websites.  Much of this material failed to cite any source material.
In my continuing quest to give substance to my own family tree, I’ve located entries which cast serious doubts on this long-accepted date and place.  In the excerpt below, the name, date and town appear to be a logical source for the belief that this refers to “my” John Graves.  There is one glaring contradiction, however:  the state.  This refers to Massachusetts, not New Hampshire.

Thinking this might have been a town within an area originally part of Massachusetts but later New Hampshire, I did some further research.  Walpole, NH and Walpole, MA are two distinct places.  Walpole, NH is on the Connecticut River, and Walpole, MA is southwest of Boston.  Using primary sources, I was also able to construct an entire family for the John Graves of Walpole, MA, and it wasn’t “mine.” 

I began with this marriage for John Graves and Mrs. Mary Smith of Dedham, MA, which is in close proximity to Walpole.  Between 1741 and 1762, they became parents to eight children, three of whom died young.  The five surviving were Mary, Ebenezer, Abigail, Anna, and Lucy.  They re-used names of their deceased children at least twice:  Mary and Ebenezer.  John has been described as a cordwainer (shoemaker). 
            While it's possible that the John Graves I'm researching could have raced up from where he was known to have lived, in the Saybrook-Killingworth area of Connecticut, or down from his new home in Cheshire Co., NH, in time for his demise 1766, it's more likely that the death date refers to the other gentleman.  Interestingly, other sources state that my John Graves was also a cordwainer.  Perhaps they "shared" more than a death date!
            All of this research revealed another anomaly:  I believe the above marriage entry says "Mrs. Mary Smith," and I'm not alone.  It's transcribed that way as well in a published volume, here:

           The authors of at least one family history published online, and no doubt many family trees, assume that Mary Smith was a single woman when she married.  It's stated that she was the daughter of Josiah Smith and Mary Paine.  While this may indeed be true, she would have had to have a first marriage to a man also named Smith at the time of her marriage to John Graves.  I will leave that question to her descendants!
The process of consulting original materials is becoming easier, with regular additions of scanned images being uploaded to various websites.  FamilySearch.org, in particular, is one of the regular stops on my genealogical journey.  
So, the question of the death of John Graves of Connecticut or New Hampshire remains unanswered.  However, even if it means erasing one of my “facts,” I find a great deal of satisfaction in untangling these mysteries. 
 I only wish I didn't create more along the way...