Winter on Birch Farm

Elnathan Black cutting ice at Birch Farm
Elnathan hauling a load of wood on Northfield Road
The old Brick House on Northfield Road, where Hattie and Elnathan Black raised their family

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Pet Alligator

Mary Hannah Black

Mary Hannah Black, aka Aunt Mary, was my grandmother Mabel Black Gould‘s favorite aunt. She was born on an unknown date around 1856 in Washington, CT, after her parents, James and Mary, emigrated from Ireland and then Montreal in the 1840s. She had three sisters and seven brothers, including Mabel’s father Elnathan M. Black.

Unlike her siblings, who went to work early and did not seek further education, Mary left home to become a nurse. She moved 40 miles south to Bridgeport, where she attended the Bridgeport Hospital School of Nursing, the first school of nursing in Connecticut, and one of the oldest nursing schools in the United States. It was then called the Bridgeport Training School for Nurses. When it opened in 1884, circus entrepreneur P. T. Barnum was head of its board of directors. Mary was a member of the first graduating class in 1887. Perhaps she met Barnum!

Bridgeport Hospital

According to newspaper and census reports, Mary worked as a nurse in Bridgeport and Waterbury for many years. Independent and single, she supported herself.

Mary frequently visited her brother’s Birch Farm in Watertown. An item in the Waterbury Evening Democrat, published on March 3, 1903, stated that she took a late-winter vacation to Florida that year, returning with an unexpected gift. “Miss Black brought with her from Florida a young alligator, which she gave to the children of her brother as a pet,” the reporter wrote. Was it the first alligator to live in Watertown? We’ll never know.

Waterbury Evening Democrat, 3-3-1903

Mary remained active in the alumni organization at the nursing school, as mentioned in news reports. My grandmother Mabel also told me that Aunt Mary gave advice and support when she was pregnant with her first children, and was devastated when her favorite aunt passed away. Mary died on Oct. 23, 1922, at the age of sixty six, according to her tombstone, in Watertown, where she is buried.

Mary’s niece (Mabel’s older sister), Ida Mary Black, followed in her aunt’s footsteps and received her nursing diploma on May 28, 1913.

Bridgeport Evening Farmer, 5-28-1913

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Quilt for Amanda

A quilt made for Amanda Treadwell by family members, now held by the Daughters of the American Revolution

The 19th century memory quilt made by the family of Amanda Treadwell and donated to the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum in Washington, DC.

Amanda Treadwell (1836-1854) was the daughter of Walter Treadwell (1797-1870) a farmer who lived on Lyons Plains Road in Weston, CT, and was the brother of my 3rd great grandfather Ebenezer Nichols Treadwell.  (Walter and his neighbor Hanford Nichols donated the land and built the Emmanuel Episcopal Church on Lyons Plains Road next to their houses).

After Amanda’s early death at age 18 in 1854,  over a dozen relatives contributed to a quilt in her memory. It possibly took them from 1854 to 1870, according to the quilt’s listing on the Quilt Index, a compilation of historical quilts.

The cotton hand-sewn quilt is red, green, and yellow, and is designed in the traditional “turkey tracks” pattern. Each relative contributed some of the squares and then signed their names on the back in indelible ink.  Her sister Louisa wrote, “And the dead for Christ shall rise first / In memory of Amanda Treadwell / who fell asleep March 11, 1854.”

The signatures of my 2nd great grandfather Aaron Treadwell and my great-grandmother Selina “Lina” Elida Treadwell Gould‘ (1852-1934), are among those preserved on the back of the quilt. The date 1864 is next to Lina’s name; she was 12-years-old at the time. (I recently received this photograph of Lina Treadwell at a young age from a distant relative on )

Selina Elida Treadwell Gould


The quilt, known as the Treadwell Family Quilt, was donated to the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum in Washington, DC.  The next time I’m in DC, I’ll try to see it.

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Red Cross Volunteer

My great-aunt Marjorie Gould joined Bayonne’s Red Cross Woman’s Motor Service Unit (see her photo, top right below)  in the spring of 1918 to help victims of the rampant flu epidemic.  After a busy summer with this and other activities,  she caught the flu, herself, and died within days on Oct. 22, just over a month after her 26th birthday. family-marjoriegould-bayonneredcross09142016


Marjorie Gould, age 25, Bayonne, NJ, 1918

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family historian


What a pleasure to be able to connect with someone who has first-hand knowledge of family history. One such person is Virginia (Ginny) Black Dietz, who spent  her life on Northfield Road in Watertown CT. The daughter of Raymond and Hazel Black, who took over Elnathan Black’s Birch Farm, she spent her early years in the Brick House.

Later, after she married and had a family, she and her husband, George Dietz, built their own house (with a tennis court) across the driveway. Ginny and George were regular visitors to the Gould’s on Monte Vista Avenue in Ridgewood, enjoying croquet games, picnics on the back porch, formal meals in the dining room.  I recently connected with Ginny and she took the time to write me letters, send photographs, and sit down over cookies in her living room, as I asked endless questions and she recalled memories of Grandma Black and other family. I treasured her warmth, sharp memory, and good heart.


Doris Gould Malaspina, Ann Malaspina, Virginia (Ginny) Dietz (Watertown CT, 2014)

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Cousin Aaron Burr

Aaron Burr

Aaron Burr, Jr.


Alexander Hamilton

With all the hoopla over the Broadway show Hamilton, it is worth remembering that U.S. Vice-President Aaron Burr (1756-1836), who shot founding father Alexander Hamilton in their July 11, 1804 duel in Weehawken NJ, was a member of our family.  He is the son of my seventh-great uncle, who is the brother of my sixth-great grandfather Joseph Burr (1700-1745). In short, he is my 1st cousin 7 times removed (according to Here are two of the show’s songs that relate to cousin Burr: The World Was Wide Enough and Ten Duel Commandments.


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Fought at Bunker Hill?

Dr. Henry Skilton (also known as Skelton), my sixth great grandfather, was born in St. Michael’s, Coventry, England on Nov. 19, 1718. According to the book Doctor Henry Skilton and His Descendants, published by the Skilton family in 1921,  he left England on a naval ship on April 1, 1735 and sailed to Boston.  In 1741, he married Tabitha Avery (1717-1793) of Preston, Connecticut.  Her father gave them land and they would have seven children.doctorhenryskilt1921doct_0005

Around 1750 Skilton bought land in Southington, CT. He studied medicine on his own and began to practice in that town. His house at 889 Main Street in still stands today. It was named to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1989.  thumbs_dr-henry-skelton-889-s-mainFamily.Dr.Skilton3

Skilton was the second physician in Watertown. He had two sons, but one died at age six, and he wanted to leave an heir. During the Revolution, the story goes, he took the place of his surviving son, Avery, and fought at Bunker Hill. He was a commissioned officer and surgeon, stationed at Roxbury Neck. At least that’s what’s in books and family documents–but I have not found official documents about his service.


Daughters of the American Revolution document


Henry Skilton gravestone in Old Town Cemetery, Watertown CT

Skilton died on June 7, 1804, and was buried in the Old Town Cemetery in Watertown. His grave is listed in Abstract of Graves of Revolutionary Patriots.

His descendants included many physicians, including three (Spiros, Peter, and Chris) in my generation alone!

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