Monday, July 30, 2018

The Battle of Saratoga and a Great-uncle

Battle of Saratoga - Andy Thomas, Artist - Google Image
John Oliver (1725-1811) is the 7th great-uncle of my sons. He was born in Northern Ireland and immigrated with his parents in 1736 to the Province of Massachusetts Bay. He lived in Athol, Worcester County, Massachusetts; had a wife, Mary L. Beaman (1728-1810); and together, they had 11 children. John was also a Captain of the Massachusetts Militia at the Battle of Saratoga from 19 September 1777 to 17 October 1777 – also known as “The Burgoyne Alarm.”  The Battle of Saratoga is considered by many historians to be a turning point for the Americans during the American Revolution.

John Oliver was one of four captains in Col. Nathan Sparhawk’s 7th Worcester Company of the Massachusetts militia; specifically, captain of the Third Company. John was commissioned a captain on 5 April 1776.  This particular militia was sent to reinforce the American troops “at the time of reduction of General Burgoyne,” the British commander. [1] As a captain, it was John’s responsibility to teach the soldiers how to work together and how to survive on the battlefield. The illustration to the left shows the standard captain insignia for the Continental Army during this war. These would be worn attached to the shoulders of the individual uniform.

Massachusetts Militia

It was not easy being an American soldier at this time. The death rate was high because of battles, espionage, and disease. The British has the best weapons, best commanders, and trained killer. The Americans were barely trained and had few supplies. [2]  However, the Battle of Saratoga changed everything. According to author Dean Snow, showed that “an improvised army of amateurs could take on the best army in the world and force it surrender.” [3] Because of the American success at Saratoga in defeating the British, the French started providing troops and supplies to the Americans. All in all, this win was a boost to the American spirit.

When John Oliver died in 1811, his tombstone was inscribed as follows: Capt. Third Co. Mass./1777 The Burgoyne Alarm ~ John is buried in the Old Pleasant street Cemetery in Athol, Massachusetts.

Photo from
[1] “Participants in the Battle of Saratoga.” Saratoga County NYGenWeb Project – Saratoga County, New York, Heritage Hunters of Saratoga County, 15 Oct. 2015,
[2] “Life of an American Soldier in the Revolutionary War.” Infogram, revolutionary-war.
[3] Snow, Dean. 1777: Tipping Point at Saratoga. 1st ed., Oxford University Press, 2016

Thursday, July 12, 2018

He wore copper-toed shoes and a lace collar

Cooper-toed shoe
Thomas James Llewellyn (1877-1949), the great-grandfather of Melissa Murphy Oliver (my daughter-in-law), arrived as an immigrant from Wales in 1888 at the age of ten. When his mother, Mary Jane Hayden Llewellyn (1858-1901), recently widowed, and he and his three brothers arrived in America, she dressed up the boys for their arrival in New York.  According to Barbara Jeanne Weyant (1929-2017), one of Thomas’ daughters, Mary Jane dressed the boys in Buster-Brown brown-colored suits with tan lace collars, copper-toed shoes, and black bowler hats. I am sure she, and the boys, were excited about their arrival to America and wanted to make a good impression. However, as Barbara relates, “When they stepped out on the dock, some boys who were there made fun” of them. Thomas “clenched his fists and knocked the boys who made fun of them down on their behinds.” John, Thomas, Wyndom, and William “came to America smiling, making a victory for themselves” in the new homeland.

Buster-brown Suit

Typical lace collar

It is not known what caused the death of Thomas’ father, John Llewellyn, in 1887, but shortly before his death, he asked his good friend Edward W. Jones (1855-1937) to take care of his family, which Jones agreed to do. John and Mary Jane married in 1887 and then emigrated to America with the four boys.

The family ended up in Garrett, Somerset County, Pennsylvania, for employment in the Ponfey Coal Mine. The Welsh were well-known for their mining skills, and they readily found employment in the coal fields.  In fact, by 1890 more than 100,000 Welsh-born immigrants resided in the United States. As skilled laborers, the Welsh miners had been recruited by American mining companies. According to Ronald Lewis, author of “Welsh Americans: A History of Assimilation in the Coalfields,” the Welsh immigrants, unlike the Irish and Eastern Europeans, were readily accepted and assimilated into the culture of America.

PA child coal-miner
Thomas joined his step-father in the coal mines when he was 12 years old and stayed until he was 19 years old at which time, according to his daughter, he struck out on his own.  According the U.S. census, in 1920 Thomas was a foreman in a glass factory and in 1930, a stationary engineer.* In 1942, according to his World War II draft registration card, he was an employee of the Monessen Lumber & Supply Company. He lived in Belle Vernon, Pennsylvania, about 34 miles south of Pittsburgh and directly west of Somerset County where he worked in the coal mines.

*A stationery engineer operates industrial machinery and equipment that provides energy in various forms. 
Note: All images are Google images

Monday, June 25, 2018


Most tombstones give minimal information:  name of deceased, year of birth, and year of death.  If the deceased is a married woman, it is rare to include her maiden name.  However, some tombstones include epitaphs.

An epitaph is a short text, many times a poem, found inscribed on a tombstone. The epitaph, as a rule, honors the deceased person. In my family research, the epitaphs I have found are on tombstones from the 1700s. However, epitaphs are not limited to that time period. Clay Allison (no family relation), 1840-1887, a Texas rancher and sometimes gunslinger has on his tombstone: “He never killed a man that did not need killing.” 

 In working on my sons’ families, I came across quite a few epitaphs. Here are three that are a good representation of epitaphs.

Sarah Swift Adams, 1711-1774

“Death is a debt to nature due, / As she has paid it so must you. / In life then strive to get prepared, / To fly with her to meet the Lord.” You will notice the unique sculpture on the top of her tombstone:  A skull with wings. This symbolizes the ascension to heaven.  Sarah is buried in the Milton Cemetery located in Milton, Massachusetts.

Abigail Adams Kneeland, 1737-1770

“The sweet remembrance of the just / Shall flourish when they sleep in dust.” Though slightly different, Abigail has the same symbolism on her tombstone as Sarah.  Abigail is buried in the Milton Cemetery located in Milton, Massachusetts.


Anne Oliver Goddard, 1764-1832
“Blessed are the dead / that die in the Lord.” Anne is buried in the North Orange Cemetery located in Orange, Massachusetts.

 Sarah and Anne are first cousins 1x removed.  Abigail and Anne are third cousins 1x removed. Sarah and Anne are second cousins 2x removed