I’ve researched so many ancestors, but I have a particularly Abagail Howes Kelley, actually naming my youngest child after her. She is my great-great-great grandmother and lived at a time of great change, when women had few rights and often dealt with seemingly insurmountable hardship.
She lived from 1799 (gravestone says 1800; VRs 1799) to 1888, living her entire life in Dennis, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod. Her parents were David Howes and Rebecca Baker, and she married Hiram Kelley, also a lifetime Dennis resident. She grew up in Dennisport; he in West Dennis. They raised their family in West Dennis, along the Bass River in a house that Hiram built that is now 50 Ferry Street.
|Bass River, West Dennis|
Abagail lived an incredibly long life for that time period. She saw the War of 1812 and the Civil War. Although she wasn’t allowed to vote, she witnessed the presidencies of many influential men including John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, and Abraham Lincoln. The year she was born there were just 16 states in the Union; when she died there were 37. Did she read newspapers? Did she even know how to read? If not, she still must have heard about the Irish Potato Famine, the mistreatment of and battles with Native Americans, the adventures of Lewis and Clark, the California Gold Rush, and the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln and Garfield. She also witnessed the invention of the electric light bulb, the telephone and the automobile, but did she get to see them first hand? New inventions came more slowly to the Cape than metropolitan areas. In her final winter, she survived the Great Blizzard of 1888.
|Hiram and Abagail's stone at West Dennis Cemetery|
Abagail had nine brothers and sisters, most living to old age, except for Ezra who died at age 33. Her brother David lived to 80 years of age; Thomas 75; Nehemiah 77; Rebecca 62; Shubael 69;. Hope 70; Sears 87; and her youngest brother Isaiah lived to age 90. This is truly remarkable given the life expectancy for the time (late 40s) that was reflective of high infant mortality rates, vast array of deadly illnesses, high percentage of women that died in childbirth. Her brothers’ longevity is all the more surprising since the Howes men were mariners, a very risky line of work. Many of their Howes relatives died in the Great Gale of October 1841, but their immediate family was unscathed.
The longevity and good health did not, unfortunately, continue into the next generation. Hiram and Abagail had eight children over a period of 20 years (according to Dennis vital records). Although her daughter Rebecca Kelley and son David both lived to age 83 and son Ezra to 78, others were not so blessed.
· Oldest son Hiram was a mariner who died at age 21 of yellow fever in the West Indies, apparently unmarried.
· Son Benjamin died of tuberculosis at age 24, leaving behind a wife and infant son. He had a daughter who died in infancy. Son Benjamin grew up to be a member of the Life Saving Service.
· Daughter Abba Studley died at age 45 of “mesenterica” which is a form of tuberculosis. Abba’s husband died the following year, leaving six children orphaned, although some of them were already of age.
1. Olivia, the oldest child, was 26 when her father died. In 1888, at age 32, she married Joshua Studley and he died on a voyage in 1894, disappearing from the vessel and presumed drowned. They had a daughter Marjorie who died at age six months in 1891. It was Joshua’s second marriage and Olivia became the legal guardian of his son Lester; someone else took in his daughter Mabel. In the 1900 census Olivia was a childless widow, age 43, living with her brother Robert in Boston, with her 21 year old step-son Lester Studley listed as a boarder. In 1910 she is a 50 year old widow, living with Robert and his young family in Wellesley. It’s easy to imagine Olivia put off marrying to take care of her younger siblings and that Robert was indebted to her for that. What a difficult life.
2. Lizzie—haven’t found any further record of her beyond her 1860 birth and a mention in a 1881 Barnstable Patriot newspaper that she was back home in Dennis with her sister Olivia, after being gone for several months.
3. Abbie, born 1862, married George Bolster, a Rhode Island native, in Gardner, MA in 1891. George was a foreman in a chair factory and they had two children, Marion and Robert.
4. Ida was born 1864, second child of that name after her sister who died at age 6. She married Charles Clark in 1890 in Worcester. In the 1920 census, Ida and Charles are living next to her sister Abbie’s family in Gardner.
5. Robert Studley was born in 1871. In the 1900 census, he’s single, working as a manager in the wool industry in Boston, with his sisters Olivia and Grace living with him. In the 1910 census, Robert is married to a woman named Luella, with children Eleanor and Virginia. His widowed sister Olivia is still living with them. Two servants are in the household, and Robert is listed as a wool merchant. It’s heart warming to see that Robert made a success of himself, living in an affluent suburb with servants, and still committed to his older sister.
6. Grace D. born in 1878. She’s single, working as a stenographer in Boston, living with her brother Robert in 1900. I have not found anything further.
· Son Isaac died at sea at age 23, leaving a daughter and pregnant wife. Two of his brothers-in-law were on the same ill-fated vessel. Isaac’s daughter Emma became a published author and her works were republished in a series by African American Women and work has been done to refute that. That’s a whole story right there!
· Daughter Hope Nickerson died at age 32 of tuberculosis, leaving four orphaned children as her husband Richard passed away two years earlier. When Hope died, her children went to live with various family members and friends:
1. Amelia went to live with Obed Baxter’s family in Dennis. She grew up and married Howard Kelley, but tragedy continued to visit her and four of her eight children died very young of horrible diseases like lockjaw and congestion of the brain.
2. Richard went to live with his Aunt Rebecca Kelley and grew up, married and had at least one child.
3. Bradley went to live in the household of his Uncle David Kelley and Grandmother Abagail Howes Kelley. He grew up, married and had seven children.
4. Ella went to live with Lydia Nickerson, as she was called her adopted daughter in the census. Maybe Lydia was a relative on her late father’s side. Ella grew up, married a physician and they raised three children in Duxbury.
Abagail was a widow for 20 years, with her son David Howes Kelley living in the family home with her and his own family at times. She must have been a great comfort to him when his son Hiram died as an infant in 1872, his first wife Lucina died in 1874, his second wife Mary passed away in 1879, and another son named Hiram died in 1884.
How did people deal with such profound loss? Was it the combination of faith, inner strength and practicality--not having much of a choice but to go on when people depended on you? I have only discovered Abagail’s losses that were recorded; there’s no way of knowing what other trials and tribulations she endured. She raised children, grandchildren, constantly keeping house when that was no small chore. I think the old saying “a woman’s work is never done” was written for women of Abagail’s generation.