“Sailed the Ocean for 30 Years”

Letters in a shoebox, with yellow notes written by my grandmother Mabel Gould.
She went through all the letters and summed them up for future generations.

In a shoebox filled with old letters from the Gould and Mead family, I found two written by Romeyn Mead, the brother of my great-great grandmother Lois Rebecca Mead Treadwell, in the 1840s. The exact dates aren’t clear as his handwriting is hard to decipher.

One was written in New York City prior to Romeyn sailing to San Francisco (via Rio de Janeiro and around Cape Horn at the tip of South America); and the other on board a ship headed for Canton (Guangzhou), China through the Indian Ocean. Romeyn would eventually sail as far as Calcutta (Kolkata), India, and become a sea captain. He addresses the letter to Sister, and I believe she is Rhoda Ely Mead, since he mentions his other two sisters, Maria and Lois, in the letter.

Romeyn’s sister
and my great-great grandmother
Lois Rebecca Mead Treadwell

How did a young man who grew up in a rural town in upstate New York wind up sailing around the world?  

Romeyn was born on 22 March 1827 in New York City, the son of the abolitionist and educator Merlin Mead and his wife Polly (Clark). The family moved to the small rural town of Cadiz, about 60 miles south of Lake Erie, where Romeyn was raised with three sisters and four brothers, two of whom died young.

In 1843, or so Romeyn later reported, he left Cadiz for the sea. He is on a citizenship list, dated 11 Feb 1848, of American seamen in New York City. 

Romeyn Mead is listed as a seaman, age 21.

The two letters, curated by my grandmother Mabel Gould, reveal why he chose the life he did. In the first letter, he is waiting for the ship to sail from NYC. He is optimistic, confident and excited about his chosen career – and plans to save his wages and also “trade” on the ship so that he can repay some debts and then take time off to visit his sister. He writes, “I have no doubt but I shall come back capable of taking a 2nd mate’s birth… I shall then get much higher wages and better fare so on the whole I think my prospects are flattering. Capt. E— has spoken very highly of me.” He assures his sister that this job is no less safe than any other. He also asks her not to marry before he gets back. (It turned out that Rhoda Mead never did marry.)

In the second letter, he writes from aboard a ship bound for Canton, China. I’m not sure if it’s the same ship as in the first letter. He says they just passed “two little rocky islands called St. Pauls and New Amsterdam.” These small volcanic islands are in the triangle between Australia, Antartica and southern Africa in the Indian Ocean.

Isle de St. Paul

The crew had to keep watch around the clock for “shoals and coral reefs.” He writes, “…Since we have been in the vicinity of the Cape we have had the albatrosses flying about quite thick” but as they sailed on, there were none. (The ship must have sailed around the Cape of Good Hope at the tip of Africa and then into the Indian Ocean.) He also tells about the crew catching a porpoise, an animal he’d never seen before, and the captain hooking a shark with a fish. They “hauled the shark on board and to make sure that he would bite no one poked a stick of wood about 6 inches in diameter about 2 feet down his throat…” 

Albatros, Wildlife of the World, Illustration by Wilhelm Kunhert, c.1910

Romeyn mentions passing another “bark” called The Pilgrim, also headed to Canton, which could be the same ship described in the book Two Years Before The Mast, by Richard Henry Dana. It would have been from the same time period and shared similar routes, so the image below of a modern replica shows a ship of that era.

The replica of the 19th c. ship Pilgrim

I haven’t found much more information about Romeyn’s travels, except this mention on a website about shipwrecks. “Kendall. Schooner of 157 or 180 tons, (perhaps 180/157 tons).  Captain Romeyn Mead. Returned from Calcutta to Melbourne on 16 June 1856, then Newcastle. From Newcastle on 25 August 1856 for Melbourne with coal, wrecked on the Kent Group. crew were later picked up by the brig River Chief and taken to Twofold Bay. ”  In Romeyn’s obituary, he is said to have lived in Calcutta for 14 years.

Much later in 1897, Romeyn returned to Cadiz for a reunion with school classmates. The Buffalo Commercial recounted on 22 Sept 1897:  “He left Cadiz in 1843, sailed the ocean for 30 years, lived in India for several years and located in Tennessee.”

Romeyn sailed from the Port of Calcutta shown here in 1860

On 12 October 1871, Romeyn married Jane B. McGuire, a captain’s widow from Massachusetts with a young son. At some point he moved to Tennessee, where he was a merchant farmer in McMinnville, a small city between Nashville and Chattanooga. He owned horses, grew corn and co-owned a store called Mead & Ritchey.  “For nice white corn and fresh corn meal, go to Mead & Ritchey,” the Southern Standard recommended on Aug. 15, 1885.  He lived in a large suburban house, according to newspaper accounts of social gatherings.

Southern Standard, 31 Mar 1883

In 1878, Romeyn filed a patent for a box fastener that made it easier to package and ship eggs and other grocery items. Some ten years later, he became the Coal Oil Inspector in McMinnville.

Romeyn became stepfather to his wife’s son John G. McGuire. The couple apparently adopted a daughter from Chicago, though I couldn’t find any other mentions of her.

Southern Standard, 31 Mar. 188x

In his old age, Romeyn lived with his stepson, his son’s wife and their four children. He died on 22 April 1906 at the age of 79 while running an errand in McMinnville.  

Romeyn, “the oldest business man in McMinnville,”
dies of a heart attack while on a business errand (The Tennessean, 23 Apr 1906)

Los Angeles Lawyer

I spotted an interesting article mentioning my great grand-uncle George Hobart Woodruff (1873-1944). Born on his family’s farm in Watertown, CT, George was a son of John Frederick Woodruff and one of Grandma Hattie Black‘s younger brothers. He was Mabel Gould’s uncle. He was possibly the only sibling to leave Connecticut and to go to college. He set off for the West Coast, put himself through Vashom College on an island in the Puget Sound in Washington State, and then Stanford University. He went on to have a successful law career. He lived in Whittier, CA, and was married to Nellie Brittain who was close to Mabel Gould. His photographs are reminiscent of Grandma Black’s son, Ira, Georges nephew.

George Woodruff

Famous poet

“Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road” 
– Walt Whitman, ‘Song of the Open Road’

I try not to make far-flung genealogy connections, but I can’t help being intrigued by the possibility that our family shares an ancestor with the great American poet Walt Whitman (1819-1892). If true, as Ancestry.com says it is, Whitman would be my 6th cousin 4 times removed, linked through the Woodruff ancestors of my grandmother Mabel Black Gould.

The common ancestor is Richard Platt (1603-1684). Platt is, apparently, Whitman’s fourth great grandfather and my ninth great grandfather.

Since Whitman is one of my favorite poets, I am going down the rabbit hole. I also consulted with an expert on the Richard Platt family who is looking into this connection, as well. If I find any more clarifying information, I will post it.

Richard Platt was an early American colonist who was born in Ware, Herdfordshire, England in 1604. He married Mary Wood and they arrived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony around 1638. Like many colonists in our family, they migrated south to present-day Connecticut. In 1639, Platt was one of the founders of the New Haven Colony. He later founded the town of Milford, located on the Long Island Sound between present-day Bridgeport and New Haven. He was a deacon.

Memorial to Richard and Mary Platt on the Memorial Bridge in Milford CT

The Platts had several sons, including Epenetus and Joseph. Epenetus (1640-1693) was the ancestor of Whitman, and Joseph (1649-1704), our family’s ancestor.

Joseph’s daughter Mary Platt (1681-1766) married John Woodruff (1672-1726), whose family eventually became farmers and owned businesses in Watertown, Connecticut. Mabel Gould’s grandfather was a Watertown farmer named John “Frederick” Woodruff.

Like several other branches of our family, Epenetus, Whitman’s ancestor, moved to Huntington, Long Island, across the Long Island Sound from Connecticut.

Long Island Sound

Epenetus’s granddaughter Hannah (Platt) Brush (1753-1834) married Jesse Whitman. Hannah and Jesse Whitman (1749-1803) were Walt Whitman’s paternal grandparents.

In 1819, Whitman was born in West Hills, Long Island, a part of Huntington, in a house that is still standing and open to the public. His father Walter Sr. was a working class carpenter and farmer, and a liberal thinker.

Walt Whitman Birthplace State Historic Site in Huntington, New York

The Walt Whitman Birthplace State Historic Site is open for visitors and poetry programs. One of my poems is in a cookbook, A Taste of Poetry, published by the Whitman Birthplace.

Whitman worked as a journalist in Brooklyn and volunteered in Union hospitals in Washington DC during the Civil War. He gradually became famous as a hard-working poet of the people who broke radical new ground both with his poetic form and content. He was ardent believer in democracy and equality for all people, and wrote several poems about President Abraham Lincoln after he was killed. Whitman died in a row house, now open to the public, in Camden, New Jersey in 1892. You can find out more about Whitman and read his work on The Walt Whitman Archive.

Whitman’s famous poem Song of Myself written in 1855 is a celebration of imagination and American history and culture. Whether or not he and I actually share a common ancestor, I don’t mind sharing some of his story.

Prize Devon Cattle

Photo of Elnathan Black and his cattle at a fair,
shared on Florence T. Crowell’s Historic Watertown Connecticut Photo Gallery Facebook page
by Chris Black

Watertown, Connecticut is “…specially noted for its thrifty farmers and Devonshire cattle,” said one local farmer in the Annual Report of the Connecticut State Board of Agriculture in 1884-1885.  

In the late 1800s, my great grandfather Elnathan “Nate” Black, also known as E.M. Black, exhibited his Devonshire, or Devon, cattle at the Watertown Fair and other regional fairs.  He raised his cattle on the rocky land of Birch Farm on Northfield Road. I found several newspaper clippings noting his prize cows. 

“Watertown Fair,” Newtown Bee, 2 Oct. 1896

Also known as the Devon or North Devon cow, the farm animal was brought to America in the 17th century by early English colonists.  The Devon cow is one of the few cows valued by farmers for three uses: milk, meat and draft, or to pull a cart or plow. A medium-sized cow, its coat is a deep glossy red and its horns are white with black tips.

Nate Black was not a casual cattle farmer. One of his bulls was listed in the American Devon Record: Containing the Pedigrees of Pure Bred Devon Cattle to Aug. 1, 1898. He bought a bull named “Rattler” on Feb. 7, 1891 from another Watertown farmer. The bull’s was bred from Lord Wilton and Dame Mame E..

Today the Devon cow is among the most endangered cattle breeds. In 2021, the U.S. Post Office issued a set of Heritage Breeds Forever stamps of farm animals that were around before the agricultural industry became industrialized and began breeding animals for productivity.

USPS Heritage Breeds Forever stamp

One of the USPS heritage breeds is the Milking Devon Cow — the same prize cattle Nate Black raised on Northfield Road over 100 years ago.

Nate Black and a Devon bull on Northfield Farm, Watertown CT


white clover

White clover and goldenrod grew plentifully in Washington CT in the late 19th century, providing nectar for Robert Black’s apiary on Blackville Road.

His naturalization record on Oct. 18, 1854 did not accurately record Robert’s age.

Robert (1825-1905) was my second great grand uncle and the brother of my second great grandfather James Black. He emigrated with his family from Ireland to Washington CT in 1849. He was around 24 years old. The whole family began farming.

Three of his brothers, Gustavus, William and James, went to fight in the Civil War in 1862, but Robert already owned a business in Washington. In 1860, he had bought a foundry and hired a blacksmith. (See my earlier post on the foundry). It was on Blackville Road across from brother John M. Black’s farm.

Robert Black purchases the foundry from a neighbor.
The foundry is across Blackville Road from his brother John M. Black’s farm.

Robert married Phebe A. Gunn (1840-1922) from an established Washington family in 1856, and they had two sons and two daughters. Son Ernest and daughter Mabel died as infants.

According to an 1893 newspaper article, Robert started his apiary around 1868 when a swarm of bees was given to him. The apiary grew to contain 30,000 bees that produced some 260 to 270 pounds of honey in a good year. He also sold equipment to beekeepers in the area.

Newtown Bee, 14 July 1893
typical box bee hive in the 19th century

The success of Robert’s honey crop relied on the weather, as a newspaper reporter recounts. A year with early frosts and dry weather left his bees without white clover. But he looked forward to the golden rod in the fall. He packaged the honey and sold it.

Newtown Bee, 9 Aug. 1895

Another year, and his honey production was better.

Newtown Bee, 21 Oct. 1898

At the age of 79 in 1904, Robert decided to sell his foundry and agricultural shop, which provided equipment to farmers, including beekeepers.

Robert died the following year at 80. He is buried with his family in the Washington Cemetery on the Green.



Birds of America, Goldfinches

This week I sat at my kitchen table, which I inherited from my grandmother Mabel Black Gould, and watched a pair of Goldfinches at my backyard bird feeder. It’s the same maple table that squeezed into her breakfast room at 92 Monte Vista Avenue, where she used sit and keep her eye on the birds drinking from the marble bird bath in her backyard.

Mabel Gould’s breakfast room. She could look through the window at the bird bath in the yard. The paintings on the wall were by her husband, Dr. J. Howard Gould, an amateur painter.
Look for the marble bird bath near the rose bush by the house at 92 Monte Vista.The crowd on the lower lawn is playing croquet.

Mabel, or Mama as her grandchildren called her, always had a pair of binoculars handy, as well as several bird guides in the corner bookcase. Her husband, Howard, must have shared her interest, because in the photograph below, he is the one wearing the family binoculars.

Mabel’s husband, Howard, carries the family binoculars during a visit with Howard’s sister Elsie Gould Ryman and brother-in-law Harry Ryman at their cottage in Truro, Massachusetts.

I inherited her hefty encyclopedia, Birds of America (Garden City Publishing: Garden City, NY 1936), edited by T. Gilbert Pearson and illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes, which sat in her breakfast room bookcase.

A well-worn copy of Birds of America, Mabel Gould’s “go to” for bird identification.

Her copy of A Field Guild To The Birds, copyright 1930, by Tory Peterson, was even more worn-out, nearly falling apart from over-use. She could identify any bird that happened into her yard.

Binoculars and Peterson’s A Field Guide to The Birds

My mother Doris Gould Malaspina inherited her mother’s knowledge of birds. She still watches for hummingbirds at her feeder in Atlanta.

Ruby-throated hummingbird on Kenbrook Drive in Atlanta.

In the 1950s, Mabel was president of the Ridgewood Audubon Society, a chapter of the national non-profit dedicated to protecting birds and their habitats. The Ridgewood chapter no longer exists.

The Record (Hackensack) 14 March 1953

She led meetings and nature walks, and fundraisers for natural areas. In 1971, she personally donated a pair of wood ducks to the Bergen County Wildlife Center in Wyckoff.

The News, Paterson, NJ, 11 May 1971

Social Worker, Seaman, Doctor, Volunteer: World War II

Janet Gould serves as a hospital social worker
in a U.S. Army station hospital during World War II.

World War II brought both hardship and opportunities. Like many families, the Goulds on Monte Vista Avenue pitched in to support the war effort. Janet Gould (deFelice), born in 1918 and the eldest daughter of Dr. J. Howard and Mabel Gould, volunteered with the American Red Cross in Europe. She served as a hospital social worker with the U.S. Army’s 304th Station Hospital, a mobile hospital behind the front lines in several European countries. Patients included German prisoners of war.

Janet’s connection with the Red Cross began when she was a child in Bayonne NJ. A letter provided by her son Tom shows her generous spirit and her early interest in helping people in need. She was about 12-years-old at the time.

Red Cross letter thanking 12-year-old Janet Gould for her contribution to a family in need.

After she earned a Master’s degree from the New York School of Social Work in 1942, now the Columbia University School of Social Work, she worked for the American Red Cross in Jamaica, Queens. In 1945, she chose to go to Europe, where the war was well underway, with the Red Cross.

Janet Gould arrives in France to work with the Red Cross
(Ridgewood Herald-News, 1 Feb. 1945)
Janet Gould (front and center) with the Red Cross in Europe.

She wasn’t the only member of the family to go overseas. Janet’s youngest brother Robert “Bob” Howard Gould, born in 1924, joined the U.S. Navy after studying Electrical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.).

Robert Gould in his Navy uniform (date and place unknown)
Robert’s Navy sailor’s hat

A lifelong sailor, and a handyman who could fix anything, Robert trained as a radio technician with the Navy in Chicago for a year, before being sent to the Pacific.

Robert Gould graduates from Radio Technician’ School in the U.S. Navy in July 1945.
(Ridgewood Herald-News, 19 July 1945)

Always a prolific letter writer, he sent a postcard to his younger sister Doris, saying that he was enjoying himself in Chicago.

Postcard of the Navy Pier in Chicago sent by Robert to his sister Doris in 1945.

Robert served on the USS Estes in the Seventh Fleet in the Pacific. The ship launched from San Francisco in July 1945.

Robert Gould served on the USS Estes during World War II.

Almost three years after he enlisted, Robert returned home in June 1948.

Robert Gould returns home from the Pacific. Herald News (Paterson NJ), 27 June 1948.

I have a piggy bank and a bag of coins that he picked up when the ship stopped in Shanghai and other Chinese ports. Robert’s love for boats and sailing remained strong. In later years, he sailed across the Atlantic Ocean, up and down the East Coast and, in the 1980’s, built his own sailboat from his home in Lexington, Massachusetts.

Chinese piggy bank
1919 large copper 20 cash coin from Honan Province, Republic of China,
saved by Robert Gould from his stint
in the Pacific during World War II.

Robert’s older brother John Mead Gould, born in 1922 and also an MIT alumnus, attended medical school during the war.

John Mead Gould, around age 20, with his Delta Upsilon fraternity in the 1942 M.I.T. yearbook.

He graduated from the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in March 1946. Graduates were immediately commissioned to the Army or Navy. John served as a medical officer in the Navy.

John Gould receives a Naval commission and diploma from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. (The Morning Call, Paterson NJ, 28 Mar. 1946)

Settling in California, John worked for many years as a thoracic surgeon. He also served on board the SS Hope, the peacetime Navy medical ship, on its first voyage to Vietnam in the 1960’s. My family visited him when the ship docked in New York Harbor. John took us on a tour.

Back at home in Ridgewood, the Gould’s youngest child, Doris Gould (Malaspina), born in 1929, was a high school student. She recalls that many teachers had left their jobs to fight overseas, and substitutes taught her classes. Doris followed in her sister Janet’s footsteps, volunteering in several organizations. She became president of the Junior Red Cross at Ridgewood High School.

The Junior Red Cross Council at Ridgewood High School (1946 Yearbook)
led by Doris Gould (front and center in plaid jacket)

The Junior Red Cross did many fundraising projects to help out during the war. They also “adopted” war orphans.

Ridgewood-Herald News, 10 Jan. 1946

Local newspapers reported that Mabel Gould participated in Red Cross fundraisers during the war. Other members of the Gould and Black families also served in World War II. Several first cousins of Janet, Robert, John, and Doris were in the Army or Navy. Virginia Black Dietz, who lived her life in Watertown, CT, in a house next to her grandparents’ farm, joined the Women’s Army Corps as a clerk in Chicago starting in 1944.

Mabel’s older brother Ira Woodruff Black (1891-1966) was an Army colonel who fought in World War I. As World War II ended, he helped liberate Europe from the Nazis, retrieved artwork stolen by the Nazis, and was a chief economic adviser during Reconstruction. Ira earned many war medals, including the Bronze Star, from the U.S. and European countries. He is buried in Arlington Cemetery.

Colonel Ira Black in Army uniform next to his mother, Hattie Black, and among siblings and spouses, circa late 1940’s, Watertown CT.
(l to r: Floyd Barlow, Ray Black, Dr. J. Howard Gould, Colonel Ira Black, Hattie Black,Marjorie Barlow (?), Mabel Gould, Virginia Dietz, Hazel (Ira) Black)
Ira Black’s many achievements during his long career of military service.
(Evening Star, Washington, D.C., 25 Mar.1968)

6 1/2 Tons of Hay in the Cow Barn: Eber Gould Jr.

Eber Gould, farmer, selectman, member of the Connecticut House of Representatives

Like many of the Goulds in early Connecticut, Eber Gould Jr. (1831-1906) held elected positions and was a leader in his community, but his early years showed struggle and aspiration.

The son of Eber Gould (1797-1874), Eber Jr. was the brother of my third great grandfather Daniel Banks Gould. The brothers were born on the family’s farm in Weston. When Eber was in his early 20s, his parents, Eber and Miranda (Banks), moved to Walton, in upstate New York, where other families from the greater Fairfield area, including Eber’s sister, had migrated. The young men, Daniel and Eber, were left to fend for themselves.

While Daniel pursued banking and investment opportunities in Bridgeport, Eber had a more hard-scrabble life, it seems. He also moved to Bridgeport, the large city near Easton, but worked in factories. According to the U.S. Censuses of 1850 and 1860, Eber lived in boarding houses.  In 1850, he was a machinist.  In 1860, he worked in a shovel manufacturing factory.  By then he was married.

Antique illustration of Bridgeport, Connecticut Factory

By 1870, the census shows he was a farm agent in Fairfield.  I don’t know when he was able to buy property, but in the June 1880 farm census, Eber was an agent for 90 acres of land at a $4,000 value in Fairfield. In that decade, he became more prosperous and moved to Easton, where he hired help for his dairy business.

Newtown Bee 14 September 1888

He attended Lee’s Chapel on Sport Hill Road, known as the Jesse Lee United Methodist Church, where he became a trustee in the 1890s.

Eber married twice to sisters in the Brown family from Weston. His first marriage to Sarah Jane Brown was in 1854. They had a daughter Amelia Jane “Jennie” Gould (1855- 1910). Sarah died in 1857 at the age of 24. Subsequently, Eber married Sarah’s younger sister, Amelia Sophia Brown (1838-1929). They had no more children. He lived in Fairfield before settling in nearby Easton (once a part of Fairfield).

The town of Easton borders the Aspetuck River. The land was rocky and not good for farming except for dairy. Eber became active in local politics as a Republican. He was elected an Easton selectman several times in the 1890s, and served on the Board of Health.

Eber Gould won the most votes for town selectman in the Easton election in October 1890.

Eber wasn’t just a local politician. He represented Easton as a member of the House of Representatives in the Connecticut State Assembly in the 1890s. He sat on the Schools committee.

Representative Eber Gould in the Assembly Book and the Connecticut State Register (1895).
Connecticut State Capitol in Hartford (photo by jglazer75).

Eber was very much a part of his community. One newspaper reported him plowing the roads with horse teams after a late winter snowfall.

Newtown Bee, 9 March 1894

I haven’t pinned down the locations of his homes over his lifetime. According to local papers, Eber bought George Banks’ home in Easton in 1890 and continued to farm, raising milking cows and oxen. He built a new barn and porch. I’ve not located his farm, but his son-in-law Edgar Jennings later had a farm on Sport Hill Road. In the 1900 U.S. Census, the Jennings lived as tenants with Eber and his wife. One possibility is that his daughter’s family carried on his farm and that it was the same one Jennings owned on Sport Hill Road. Today there are several working farms on Sport Hill Road. Eber’s will stated that his land was bordered by Easton Turnpike South, which is also Sport Hill Road, and Fred Silliman’s property. More research is needed!

Newtown Bee, 3 August1906

Eber died on 25 July 1906, following a long illness caused by the grip (influenza) and heart problems, according to local newspapers. He was buried in Easton’s (supposedly haunted) Union Cemetery, and his gravestone was carved by a man from Bridgeport two years later.

Newtown Bee, 31 May 1908

Eber’s life possessions, according to his will, included a cider mill, horse barn, lumber wagon, sleigh, grain cradle, 6 1/2 tons of hay in the cow barn, and one oxen yoke.

Remembering the Spanish Flu

The Jersey Journal recently published a series “Remembering Saints of An Earlier Epidemic” by John Gomez about heroes of the Spanish Flu Epidemic in 1918. I discovered both my grandfather Dr. J. Howard Gould and his sister Marjorie Gould, both of whom lived in Bayonne, are mentioned in the series. Dr. Gould was one of the physicians who treated flu patients, and was “stricken” himself.

Dr. J. Howard Gould with (l to r) his children, John, Doris, Janet, and Robert

Marjorie is pictured below in a photograph of Red Cross ambulance volunteers. She died shortly after contracting the flu in October 2018. I’m proud to see both their names in print 102 years later.