In this multi-part blog series:
Copyright 2020 Michael Stephen Wills, All Rights Reserved.
Romance of Ruins
In this multi-part blog series:
Copyright 2020 Michael Stephen Wills, All Rights Reserved.
Gone too soon
Joseph P. Lee, a middle aged gentleman with carvings of a mature willow flanked by urns. In the intervening 162 years the upper layers of slate flake at the edges.
Rhoda Ann Mattison, a wife who died too young. What was the relationship of James and Rhoda to Catherine and John?
The carving is a pineapple (for hospitality) set in a elegant vase on a plinth flanked by ionic columns, a simple arch (banded to imply a rainbow?) surmounts all. Cross hatching implies space. An implied eternal banding of stylized leaves as starbursts.
I brought out the characteristic slate coloring. There is evidence of ware from the intervening 197 years, though the carving is surprising crisp.
Delving the past
On my way to Taughannock Falls, November 6, 2019 (see my post “Cuteness Break”, the first of that series) I explored a different route and came up this cemetery set among an appealing pine grove.
Located in the town of Ulysses, New York there is a Quaker Settlement church a few feet further west on Perry City Road. I have Quaker ancestors, so took the opportunity to peruse the family names. The stones were unusually beautiful and touching, mostly local slate, some with intricate carvings.
Here is a headstone for two young people of the same family name. The white marble carved in the form of a willow, from the flowing lines and, knowing how our willows green up springtime, it calls to mind the same youthful greening as appropriate for two young people who lived 22 and 15 years.
Analysis of the dates, given in the following capture, tells the story of an young woman, a baby born 5 months after her death and who followed his aunt 15 years later.
I have a great aunt who also died young with a headstone naming her mother and father. Here is the granite headstone of Mary R. Daughter of George & Margarett Wills Died Oct. 3, 1886 Aged 20 years. Saint Mary of Assumption Cemetery, Sweetwater, New Jersey. My grandfather James Edward Wills was 9 years old at his sister Mary’s passing. He must have attended her church service and internment, standing at this spot.
The Hens Flee
I say she, because Tom stayed behind. He stood erect, all three feet of him, defiant and strutting in a direction opposite from the hens.
Pam’s Ancestors Jan and Maria Van Loon
June 2018 I shed a 53 year old habit of working for a living for new habits in retirement. Instead of waking at 5 am to work for someone else, my routine became to wake at 5 am for personal projects. From June into September 2018 my morning time was spent researching and documenting family history, also known as genealogy: my own and Pam’s.
It was fitting Pam and I spent the last days of that year (June 2018 through May 2019) harvesting our newly acquired knowledge on the ground, a 3 hour drive from our home, to the site of Pam’s earliest ancestor in the New World, at that time Colonial America. Our visit will be book-ended by another this September to Burlington, New Jersey, on the eastern short of the Delaware river, founded by my earliest ancestor, also in Colonial America and 4 hours from our present day home.
A river setting is a link between our ancestors and the two rivers associated in a number of ways. In driving to Athens, New York, a village on the west bank of the Hudson River 31 miles from the state capital, Albany. Our route from Ithaca to Athens included route 23 that passes through the Catskill Mountain, Delaware County, village of Stamford. The headwaters of the west branch of the Delaware River passes through Stamford.
Henry Hudson and the crew of the Half Moon were the first recorded Europeans to visit both the Delaware and Hudson rivers. The Half Moon dropped anchor in Delaware Bay late August, 1609. They reached the estuary of the Hudson (then called the North or the Mauritius). The goal of Hudson was a route to China. Luring him up was the flow and width of the river, Hudson suspected this land was a island, behind which lay the route to the Orient. He navigated up the river for ten days, passing the future site of Athens.
Hudson was in the employ of the Dutch East India Company and it was the Dutch who laid claim to the length of the Hudson for the purpose of trade. In summary, when Swedish/Finnish colonists on the Delaware proved successful in shipping huge numbers of beaver pelts and tobacco the Dutch took control of the Delaware under force of arms in the interest of controlling this trade.
The Dutch, AKA the Dutch East/West India Companies, had little interest in establishing colonies. Instead huge areas of land, “patents”, were granted to individuals with the underlying goal of providing a flow of shippable goods. It remained as such for many years, until 1664 when England, under the king Charles II, took control of New Amsterdam and, by extension, trade flowing on the Hudson River.
Jan Van Loon (pronounced Van Loan) comes into the picture with a 1676 marriage to Maria in New Amsterdam. When Jan acquired a major interest in the 1688 Loonenburg patent the land was just opening to European settlers and their tenancy was less than secure. Threatened by incursions of Native Americans and animosities between the French and English. They had eight children who reached adulthood, the house of one of them, Albertus, is one of the oldest continually inhabited residences in New York State.
Tradition has it Jan Van Loon acquired the land through a payment of 50 beaver pelts and provided services as a blacksmith, though that had to be after a number of years of residence, since he was a first settler. Pam and I are learning more about those early years, but we know Jan and Maria’s interest in the land was not trade. It was to live peacefully and prosper which they, somehow, did to the benefit of all the people around them.
a personal narrative
An excerpt from an interview by Diane Frances Wills of our father Thomas Francis Wills for a seventh-grade assignment about 1971. I did some editing to correct the date based on historical records and my father’s military records (Michael Stephen Wills).
Thomas enlisted for the navy one day after his 24th birthday, September 25, 1939 and served 6 years and a few weeks until October 7, 1945 having experienced the Battle of the Atlantic (American Defense Medal) and liberation of the Philippines (WWII Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic Pacific Theater, Philippine Liberation Ribbon). Here is his description of an incident from that time:
1 Year, 6 months after my enlistment in New York City, March 1941, on the USS Upshur two days out of Boston on its run to Reykjavik, Iceland delivering mail and supplies to the marines stationed to prevent the Germans from establishing a base. Steaming north we got word there was a gale blowing in our path. We all became apprehensive. I asked Bill Rogers, the radioman, about the approaching storm. “Say, Bill, I see by the weather report we’re heading info some rough weather. How long do you think it will last?”
“Yeah, according to the latest weather report it is a regular Northeaster and we can expect a couple days of rough winds and high waves, also very cold weather. We’ll have to secure everything topside so it won’t blow or be washed overboard. We can also expect very little in the way of normal meals except for maybe coffee and sandwiches.” On such a small ship the cooks can’t prepare meals in such weather.
As we approached the storm zone the sea got rough and the wind started blowing. Soon we were well into a horrible storm. The sky got dark and gloomy, full of dark bold clouds. The ocean rough, choppy and black. The rain started coming down sharp and harsh, cold and icy. The rain cut through your body like piercing arrows, it chilled your bones.
Sometimes I thought the ship was going to sink, the waves and the wind were so strong. The bow would go bluntly into the water. The ship listed sideways, seeming to almost rolling over. The waves carried our ship up, then go out from underneath sending us crashing down. This happened over and over, endlessly.
I was on duty in the radio shack and had to walk the whole length of the ship from my sleeping quarters. Many times, I almost went overboard, the wind was so strong. I could lay on my stomach but it did not help because I could still slide through the railings. I would freeze to death in five minutes in that water. I hope I never had to go through that again, seems like yesterday. All we had to wear was a sailor suit, not too warm. I’d just get all soaked.
My shipmates and I, a five-foot eight-inch boy of 25 with dark brown hair, had to be calm and keep doing our normal scheduled duties, because we learned you can’t get panicky or else you will put your whole ship out of order.
The storm went on until the end of night. I thought the storm would never end. It felt as if it lasted a week. At that time no other ships sailed with us, so there was no possibility of help. Nobody fell over the side or was drowned.
After that, a German U-Boat launched a torpedo at us and missed. We searched, tried to sink them without success.
Angels on High
On this Christmas Eve we offer you our sincere wishes for a blessed celebration of your personal holiday tradition.
Copyright 2018 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills