Welcome! I really enjoy exchanging information with people and love that this blog helps with that. I consider much of my research as a work in progress, so please let me know if you have conflicting information. Some of the surnames I'm researching:

Many old Cape families including Kelley, Eldredge/idge, Howes, Baker, Mayo, Bangs, Snow, Chase, Ryder/Rider, Freeman, Cole, Sears, Wixon, Nickerson.
Many old Plymouth County families including Washburn, Bumpus, Lucas, Cobb, Benson.
Johnson (England to MA)
Corey (Correia?) (Azores to MA)
Booth, Jones, Taylor, Heatherington (N. Ireland to Quebec)
O'Connor (Ireland to MA)
My male Mayflower ancestors (only first two have been submitted/approved by the Mayflower Society):
Francis Cooke, William Brewster, George Soule, Isaac Allerton, John Billington, Richard Warren, Peter Browne, Francis Eaton, Samuel Fuller, James Chilton, John Tilley, Stephen Hopkins, and John Howland.
Female Mayflower ancestors: Mary Norris Allerton, Eleanor Billington, Mary Brewster, Mrs. James Chilton, Sarah Eaton, and Joan Hurst Tilley.
Child Mayflower ancestors: Giles Hopkins, (possibly) Constance Hopkins, Mary Allerton, Francis Billington, Love Brewster, Mary Chilton, Samuel Eaton, and Elizabeth Tilley.

Monday, April 8, 2024

Potential Ancestry of Ruth Harding Eldredge, born 1776 and died between 1855-1959, wife of Nehemiah Eldredge

Ruth Harding is my 5th great-grandmother on my grandmother Milly Booth Rollins’s side of the family. She has long been a stubborn brick wall as I could not find her birth information. What I knew about her is that she married Nehemiah Eldredge in 1796 as Miss Ruth Harding of Chatham. Their Marriage Intentions:  Mr. Nehemiah Eldredge of Harwich - Miss Ruth Harding of Chatham Jany 30th 1796. (Harwich Vital Records  p 178) Intentions were also published in Chatham.  (Chatham Vital Records p 165)

Nehemiah Eldredge was born 7 June 1775, the son of Elnathan and Dorothy (Freeman) Eldredge. The surname Eldredge is spelled in a variety of ways including Eldridge; I use Eldredge for consistency. 

Perhaps Ruth was a few years younger than her husband, so I looked for a ca 1777 birth record. The only one I have found in Barnstable County close to that is a Falmouth record: 14 May 1780, Ruth Harding was baptized at Falmouth, the daughter of Thomas and Jenny Harding. (Falmouth Vital Records 1:62 citing Church Records 1) If Ruth was born a year or so before her baptism, she would have been 17 or 18 at her marriage.

I haven’t found Ruth or Nehemiah’s death records which might shed further light on Ruth’s birth. I don’t believe they left Cape Cod and are likely buried without gravestones. The pastor at Harwich United Methodist Church (where some of Nehemiah’s family worshipped) told me many of the old records are lost and that has been confirmed by other genealogists. There are some people who give Ruth’s death year as 1823 but no one provides a citation for this.

Nehemiah was living on 7 May 1832 when his father Elnathan Eldredge mentioned him in his will. Many researchers give Nehemiah a 1839 death year, but without a citation. This date does appear in An Eldredge Genealogy, a 1966 manuscript by Ruth Brown McAllister. If only she cited her sources!

Ruth and Nehemiah had at least seven children; only James the eldest son’s birth is recorded:

i.James Harding Eldredge born Chatham 7 April 1797 (Henry K. Bearse Transcript of Harwich Births and Deaths, 1765-1840, citing book 6, page 33); married Rosanna Wixon 3 December 1818 in Harwich; died 1 May 1873 in Dennis.

ii.Rebecca Eldredge born 15 Jan 1802 at Harwich; married Isaiah Edwards 23 Oct 1823 at Harwich; died 20 February 1882 at Dennis as daughter of Nehemiah and Ruth Eldredge [birth date calculated from age at death].

iii.Sarah/Sally Eldredge born 4 July 1804 Harwich [calculated from age at death]; married Samuel Chase; died 2 Jan 1861 at Harwich as daughter of Nehemiah and Ruth Eldredge.

iv.Nehemiah Eldredge, born August 1807 at Harwich (calculated from age at death); married 3 October 1830 Betsey Eldredge at Harwich (Harwich Vital Records p 253); may have been the Nehemiah who married, second, Eliza Sylvia; died 4 Feb 1890 at Chatham as son of Nehemiah and Ruth Eldredge (Chatham VR 2:402).

v.Ruth Eldredge born Harwich 2 Oct 1810 (birth based on age at death); married Elisha Smalley at Harwich 11 Feb 1830 (Harwich Vital Records p 252); died 5 Feb 1892 at Harwich (Chatham Vital Records 2:409), daughter of Nehemiah Eldredge and Ruth Harding Smalley (the surname appears to be an error possibly stemming from confusion over mother and daughter’s names).

vi.Susan/Susanna Eldredge, born 29 Jan 1813 at Harwich (based on age at death); married first George Rogers, second 28 Sept 1845 at Brewster, Enoch Crosby as daughter of Nehemiah and Ruth Eldredge (Brewster VR p 207); died 30 Sept 1904 at Dennis (MA VR 36:38).

vii.Didama Eldredge born 29 May 1819 at Harwich (calculated from age at death); married Benjamin/Bani Eldredge 16 Nov 1837 at Harwich; died 11 May 1910 at Chatham daughter of Nehemiah Eldredge and Polly Harding (MA VR 1910/29 p 246); Polly must be Ruth’s nickname; negative death record search using that name.

They may have had two additional sons, but I’ve found no supporting records other than being included in Ruth Brown McAllister’s manuscript:  

Freeman, born 1802 probably Harwich, died 1822, probably Harwich, unmarried

Harding, born 1816, nothing further 

By searching census records for Ruth’s children, I found two important traces of Ruth which refute the 1823 death date. In 1850 at Chatham, Ruth Eldredge is age 74, living in the household of her daughter Diadama Eldredge, age 30. Ruth’s daughter Susan Crosby, age 27, is living next door. This gives Ruth a birth year of about 1776, a good fit with Nehemiah’s age.

In the 1855 Massachusetts State Census, Ruth Eldridge, age 79, is living in Chatham in the household of her daughter Susan Crosby, age 43. 

I do not find Ruth in the 1860 census living with any of her children, so I believe she died between 1855 and 1860, likely at Chatham. Nehemiah’s absence from these census records infers that he died before 1850 so that 1839 date is possibility.

Ruth’s Potential Parents: Thomas Harding and Content/Jenny Howes

Thomas Harding was born Chatham 29 April 1738 to Maziah and Bethiah (Sears) Harding (Ancestry database “Massachusetts, U.S., Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988") Intentions to marry Content Howes 23 May 1760 in Chatham. He married Jenny Howes 15 December 1760. It seems Content and Jenny are the same person as both are used in records relating to Thomas’ children. The long gap between intentions and marriage could be explained if he was a mariner away at sea. 

Some researchers have Content/Jenny born about 1740, the daughter of Daniel and Elizabeth/Betty (Doane) Howes, but I have not confirmed this with my own research.

The main issue I find with this couple is that they didn’t have children until 16 years after their marriage. Not sure how that could be explained other than they lived out of the area or their children’s births were unrecorded. I can’t find any other Thomas Harding married to a Content or Jenny and there is plenty of evidence pointing to Thomas and Content/Jenny as the parents of Ruth and her known siblings. 

Jenny Harding was dismissed from the Chatham Church and admitted to the Falmouth Church on 1 May 1781. (Falmouth Congregational church Records, Vol 1 & 2) This date is a year after Ruth’s baptism in Falmouth. 

Thomas and Content/Jenny’s children, born Chatham and Falmouth:

i.Mulford Harding born Chatham 10 July 1776. (Chatham Vital Statistics and Town Meetings 1727-1856, p 275) He married Sarah/Sally Young 12 May 1799 at Chatham, called the son of Thomas and Content. (Chatham Vital Records p 193) Many people give Mulford’s parents as Thomas Harding and his wife Phebe Hopkins, but Mulford’s Chatham birth record clearly gives his parents as Thomas and Jenny Harding; his death record names his parents as Thomas and Content. The use of names Content and Jenny add credence to his parents being the couple married in 1760. His unusual name comes from his maternal great-grandmother Patience Mulford Doane.

ii.Ruth Harding baptized Falmouth 14 May 1780, daughter Thomas and Jenny Harding.

iii. Fanny Harding baptized 15 December 1782 at Chatham, daughter of Thomas and Content.  (Falmouth VR 1:62, CR 1) She married Henry Nickerson of Long Island on 8 May 1802, at Chatham, no parents listed. I believe Fanny was a nickname to differentiate her from her mother and she is Content Nickerson, wife of Capt. Henry Nickerson, who is buried in Noyack, New York. She died 28 March 1836, in 51st year, so dates aren’t exact match. (Findagrave memorial ID 17180444)

iv.Hawes/Howes Harding baptized Falmouth 1784, son of Thomas and Jenny Harding (Falmouth Vital Records 1:62, CR 1) Another clue that I have the right parents as Jenny’s maiden name was Howes and his grandmother Bethiah’s maiden name was Hawes. 

v.Sally Harding baptized Falmouth 9 July 1786, daughter of Thomas and Jenny (Falmouth Vital Records 1:62, CR 1)

I have not found Thomas and Content’s death records or a probate record for Thomas in Barnstable County. 

Ruth’s Potential Paternal Grandparents: Maziah/Amaziah Harding and Bethiah Hawes

Maziah Harding was born about 1693 at Chatham (based on age at death), the son of Joseph Harding and Dinah Hedges. He died 31 Mar 1760 in his 68th year and is buried at Chatham’s Old Burial Ground. (Mayflower Descendant, “Records in the Oldest Burying Ground in Chatham,” 8: 238)

Maziah Harding's gravestone

He married about 1721 Bethiah Hawes. 

Bethiah Hawes born July 1701 at Yarmouth, the daughter of Lt. Isaac Hawes and his wife Bethiah Howes. She is a descendant of Mayflower passengers John Howland and Elizabeth Tilley, as well as Elizabeth’s parents. She died 10 March 1788 at Chatham. 

Maziah and Bethiah’s children (first eight from Chatham Vital Records published in Mayflower Descendant 5:121): 

i.Silvanus Harding born 18 May 1723

ii.Joseph Harding born 21 Feb 1725

iii.Seth Harding born 16 January 1727

iv.Desire Harding born 24 April 1729

v.Bethiah Harding born 22 March 1731

vi.Grace Harding born 30 March 1733

viii.Samuel Harding born 29 March 1736

viiii.Thomas Harding born 29 April 1738

ix.Prince Harding born 20 July 1740 (NEHGR 7:388)

I’ve seen additional children Paul and Susanna, but I need to do more research to confirm.

Maziah had a homestead in Chatham near that of his father, on the road leading out of Ragged Neck to the highway. 

Ruth’s Potential Paternal Great-Grandparents: Joseph Harding and Dinah (?Hedges)

Joseph was born 8 July 1667 at Eastham, son of Joseph and Bethia (Cooke) Harding. By 1693 the family had removed to Chatham. He married Dinah, probably the daughter of Tristram Hedges.

Children of Joseph and Dinah from Joseph’s will, order uncertain, from Smith’s Early Chatham Settlers:

i.Joseph Harding m. 1st Jane Adams dau of John of Boston 23 July 1713; m. 2nd Mary Stewart, widow of Michael between 1716-1720

ii.Maziah Harding born about 1693; m. Bethiah Hawes, dau of Isaac about 1721

iii.Dinah Harding b about 1700; m. first William Beer Jr. of Yarmouth who died soon after marriage; m 2nd John Young, son of David of Eastham (Intentions10 March 1721, Eastham VR)

iv.Bethiah Harding m. William Nickerson son of Thomas before Oct 1725

v.Priscilla Harding m. Joseph Howes son of Thomas 2 Feb 1726/7 (Chatham VR)

vi.Grace Harding d. before her father leaving dau Mary

vii.Mary Harding m. John Buck after 1726

viii.Nehemiah Harding b about 1708; m. Priscilla Collins, dau of Joseph of Eastham 14 Jan 1730/1 (Eastham VR) 

Rev Abner Morse in The Harding Genealogy mentions a son John who married a Deborah Nickerson, but the will of Joseph Harding does not mention him or any children of his. 

Joseph and Dinah lived in the southwest corner of Chatham at Cockle Cove, then called Ragged Neck. Hardings Beach, which adjoins this land, is named for him. He served as selectman for seven years, treasurer for two years, and held other offices. He was first a Lieutenant and then Captain of the military company. 

Hardings Beach in Chatham

Dinah, wife of Capt. Joseph Harding died 28 Jan 1738/9, age 76 years. She is buried at the Old Burial Ground, Chatham. Joseph died early in 1745, leaving a will dated 16 February 1738/9; proved 8 May 1745. He is buried with Dinah with just a foot stone surviving that reads Capt Joseph Harding. (The Mayflower Descendant, “Records of the Oldest Burying Ground in Chatham,” 8:238)

Dinah (?Hedges) Harding gravestone

Ruth’s Potential Paternal Great-Great-Grandparents: Joseph Harding and Bethia Cooke

Joseph Harding was born about 1629 in Plymouth Colony, the son of a man of the surname Harding and his wife Martha whose maiden name was probably Doane. He was raised from a young age by John Doane, presumably his maternal uncle, as both of his parents died young.

Joseph married Bethiah Cooke 4 April 1660 at Eastham. (Mayflower Descendant, “Eastham and Orleans, Mass., Vital Records," 7:13) She was born Plymouth about 1640, the daughter of Josias Cooke and Elizabeth Ring.

They had 10 children born Eastham as children of Joseph Harding with no mother listed (Mayflower Descendant, “Eastham and Orleans, Mass., Vital Records," 7:13)

i. Martha Harding born 19 August 1665

ii.Joseph Harding born 8 July 1667

iii.Josiah Harding born 15 August 1669

iv.Maziah Harding born 1 November 1671 [“1” written over “3”]

v.John Harding born 9 October 1673

vi.Joshua Harding born 15 Feb 1675

Joseph married second a woman whose name is unknown. They had children: 

vii.Nathaniel Harding born 25 December 1674 [sic]

viii.Abiah Harding born 26 January 1679

ix.Samuel Harding born 1 September 1683

x.John Harding born 14 June 1697 [could year be transcription error?]

Bethiah’s death date is unknown but likely died at Eastham. She is named in her father’s 22 September 1673 will and in a 1 June 1687 document pertaining to the settlement of his estate. 

Josiah Cooke and Joseph Harding were witnesses to a deed from William Twining of Eastham to Thomas Doghead dated 7 March 1671, Joseph signing by mark so perhaps he was unable to write. (Mayflower Descendant,”Dean—Twining—Snow,” 15:52)

Ruth’s Potential Great-Great-Great Grandparents Unknown Harding and Martha Doane

Martha, likely Martha Doane sister of John Doane, married a man named Harding whose first name is not known, in or about 1632 in England. Some researchers believe his name was Joseph Harding and there is a great deal of conflicting information about this family. Some of the stories say that he was a member of Gov. Gorges party that settled at Wessagussett (now Weymouth) and that they had an older son John Harding. But it seems more likely that she married Mr. Harding in England where he died and that she came to Plymouth in 1632 with her young son, Joseph. 

Sadly Martha died at Plymouth between 25 March 1633 (tax assessment) and 28 October 1633 (administration of her estate). She left personal property totaling over 20 pounds in an inventory taken 28 Oct 1633, but had debts of a greater value. She left her young son, Joseph, in the care of John Doane, presumably her brother who also administered her estate.

John Doane removed to Eastham on Cape Cod, with his large family including Joseph Harding.

Sources Not Mentioned Above: 

William C. Smith, Library of Cape Cod History & Genealogy, No. 36, “Early Chatham Settlers,”  1915

Ruth Brown McAllister compiler, An Eldredge Genealogy, 1966, privately printed manuscript

Luella Eldridge, The Family of Clyde Mulford Eldridge and Other Desc of William Eldred of Yarmouth,  1983 [Nehemiah Eldredge’s death year]

Wilbert J. Harding compiler/editor, The Hardings in America, 1925

Mayflower Descendant, “Descendants of John Young of Plymouth and Eastham,” vol 57, no 1 (2008)

The Nickerson Family Association, The Descendants of William Nickerson 1604-1689 First Settler of Chatham, Massachusetts, Part 1, 1973: 

Robert Charles Anderson, The Great Migration Begins, 1995

Friday, March 22, 2024

Emma Dunham Kelley Hawkins born 1863 in Dennis, Mass., died 1938 in Rumford Rhode Island

This isn’t my usual post as Emma Dunham Kelley Hawkins is not in my direct line—she is my first cousin, three times removed. I had basic information on Emma since the early days of my esearch. She was born Emma Dunham Kelley on 11 November 1863 at Dennis on Cape Cod, the daughter of Isaac Dunham and Gabrelia (Chase) Kelley (Dennis VR vol 3, p 1061). 

Emma’s Misidentification 

In 2003 I was contacted by Dr. Katherine “Kathy” Flynn who was researching the ancestral lines of Emma Kelley Hawkins. She informed me that Emma had been identified as one of the first important African American female writers! This was quite a surprise as I am certain that Emma was white. The goal of Flynn’s project was to reveal this error in Emma’s racial identification. Flynn’s work inspired me to do more research on Emma and when I recently came across her books while rearranging a bookshelf, I realized I had never compiled that information into a sketch on Emma. 

According to Flynn’s research, the assumption she was black seems to be based solely on a photograph of her on the frontispiece of her novel Megda. Perhaps a contributing factor was that Cottage City that she wrote about is part of the area on Martha’s Vineyard known as Oak Bluffs, historically a popular resort area for black people.

Emma's photograph from Magda

Emma’s Family

Emma’s father, Isaac, was the older brother of my great-great grandfather David Howes Kelley, a family I have thoroughly researched. Isaac was born in West Dennis 7 Apr 1839, the son of Hiram and Abagail (Howes) Kelley. (Dennis Vital Records 1: 230) At age 21 he married 18-year-old Gabrelia Chase at Dennis on 21 April 1859. (Dennis Vital Records 2:917) Gabrelia was the daughter of Warren and Emeline (Baker) Chase of South Dennis. 

Isaac was only 23 when he tragically died at sea on 4 April 1863. (Dennis Vital Records 3:1423) He left behind three-year-old Alice May and his wife Gabrelia who was pregnant with Emma who would be born on 11 November.  (Dennis Vital Records 3:1061) Did Isaac even know he was going to be a father again? Also on board were two of his brothers-in-law, Hersey Crowell (32 and married to Gabrelia’s sister Charlotte) and Johial Chase (Gabrelia’s 19 year old brother), so it was an unspeakably sad day for the family. They were on board the schooner Roxbury, delivering a cargo of ice from Boston to Virginia, when they sailed into a storm off the coast of Rhode Island and were never heard from again. 

Gabrelia’s father, Warren Chase, was a sea captain who died in 1854 in Savannah’s yellow fever epidemic, according to his great-grandson E. Butler Moulton. With that 1863 storm, the male wage earners in the once prosperous Chase family were gone. Flynn put me in touch with Mr. Moulton who was elderly at time. We wrote each other letters and much of the personal information about the family comes from him. 

Within two years of Isaac’s death, Gabrelia and her young daughters were living in New Bedford with her sister Emily Bryant’s family. (1865 Massachusetts State Census)

Gabrelia was 26 when she married, second, William Smith Quincy on 5 June 1867 at New Bedford, Mass. (Massachusetts Vital Records 1841-1910, 199:118) He was a carpenter, age 27, born in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, to Charles and Eliza Quincy. Remarkably it was also the second marriage for William. 

Hopefully it was a love match for Gabrelia, but it did not last. William died in July 1868 of consumption, just a year after their marriage. He is buried at Christ Church Cemetery, Lincoln, Rhode Island. (Findagrave.com, Memorial ID 142759196) Gabrelia was once again left to raise her children alone, which now included a son, Herbert Quincy, born in January 1868. Gabrelia never married again.

Emma as a young woman from my family collection of photographs

In 1875 Gabrelia Quinzy [sic] and her daughters Alice Kelley age 15, Emma Kelley age 11, and son Herbert Quinzy age 7, are living on Lonsdale Street in Cumberland, Rhode Island. Her mother Emeline Chase is living next door, taking in boarders, and her unmarried children Lavina and Warren are living with her. Many in the family worked at the Lonsdale Cotton Mill and lived in mill-owned row houses. (1875 Rhode Island State Census)

Gabrelia had moved to Cumberland, Rhode Island by 1880, when she is enumerated as “Gela” Quincy, 39, widowed, working in a cotton mill. With her are her children Alice Quincy, 20, working in cotton mill, Emma Quincy, 16, in school, and son Herbert Quincy, age 12, in school. Nearby were Emma’s aunts and uncles: Charlotte Crowell (widow of Captain Hersey Crowell), Warren, Abbie and Lavina Chase. (1880 Federal Census) The two sisters took different paths: Alice labored in a mill while, according to family information, Emma became a school teacher. I do wonder if they each had a choice in that path.

Emma and her family are always described as white in census and vital records. Some English settlers married Native Americans, but there were very few people of African origins on Cape Cod at the time Emma was born. A wave of Azorean immigrants didn’t arrive until the late 1800s. Flynn’s research shows that 99.6 percent of the residents enumerated from 1790 to 1865 in Emma’s four ancestral towns were white. There were early English settlers who married Native Americans, and some people believe that is the case with Emma’s ancestor William 2 Chase (born ca 1627 the son of William and Mary Chase; died February1685) but this is not possible to prove with traditional records. Many of the early Cape Cod families are interwoven—William 2 Chase is also my 9th great-grandfather and many married couples including Gabrelia and Isaac were also distant or not-so-distant cousins.

Emma As A Writer, Wife, Mother 

Amongst considerable sadness and hardship, when Emma was in her 20s she published two novels: 

  • Megda, 1891, by Emma Dunham Kelley (her pen name was Forget-Me-Not). This book has her photograph in the frontispiece. It was so popular it was re-printed the following year.
  • Four Girls in Cottage City, 1895, by Emma Kelley-Hawkins. This gave me the first indication that Emma had married and also a range of when that marriage took place. 

Emma dedicated Megda to her mother:  “To my widowed mother to whose patient love and unwearied devotion during years of hard struggle and self-sacrifice I owe all that I am and all that hope holds before me in the future.”  I’m so glad in a life full of sorrow, Gabrelia had a daughter to be so proud of and was able to witness her success. 

Emma actually included the story of her father’s tragic death in Four Girls, writing from her mother’s perspective of losing her husband “Isaac Chase.” Two passages from the book:

“At no time had I questioned God's goodness as I did then. I was wild with hopeless misery. They went away one cloudy day in the last of March. That night a terrible storm came up.  I lay awake all night and listened to it. I loved my husband, but I worshipped my brother Jo. Was this the reason that God saw fit to take him from me? It was just and right for Him to do so, for I loved Jo better than I loved God. Our boys never came back to us. The storm swept them away from the face of the earth, and we saw them no more only a wreck was left off the coast of Cape Hatteras to tell us of the end they had made.”

“Oh those were terrible days!  I have often wondered how we ever lived through them. I have known since where mother went to find strength to endure, and found it; but then my heart was hard and bitter. I think the suspense was the hardest, the most trying. It was hard to lose husband and brother together, yes, two brothers, for Hersey was very near to me. Seven months after the storm, another little girl was born to me, and when I heard its first little wailing cry, I turned my face to the wall and the tears rolled down my cheeks. Poor little baby! Never in this world to look upon its father's face! Why was it born? Then something in my heart seemed to give way. I gathered the tiny form close to me and kissed it and cried over it. And from that hour I loved it more than anything I had ever loved before except Jo.”

The writing seems melodramatic, typical of that time period, but when the reader knows the real story it is bone chilling. 

A photograph of Emma where her skin appears lighter

When Emma was 29, she married childless widower Benjamin Hawkins, a civil engineer who was eleven years her senior. Mr. Moulton said their 1892 wedding notice in the Pawtucket Valley Daily Times mentioned Emma as the author of Megda. He said this was not a love match, but one of practicality. Emma bought significant funds she earned from her first novel to the marriage, but her husband squandered the money as he worked on several unsuccessful inventions including a more efficient stove that he called the Hawkins Heater. They lived in various towns in Rhode Island including Lincoln, Pawtucket, and Providence. 

Emma had two daughters: Gala E (Gala was her mother’s nickname) born 3 March 1894 and Megda D born 12 March 1897. I love that she chose unique names!

In 1910 the family was living in Lincoln, Rhode Island. Benjamin, 57, is listed a president of an automobile agency. Emma is 46, Lola (an error for Gala) is 16, Medga is 13, and “Tabralia,” which should be Gabrelia, is living with them. (1910 Federal Census)

The family was living on Sanford Street in Pawtucket in 1915. Benjamin Hawkins is 62, an auto supplies salesman; Emma is 47; Gala is 21 and a bookkeeper; Megda is 17.  (1915 Rhode Island State Census)

Five years later the family is living on Burlington Street in Providence. Benjamin Hawkins is 67, an inventor of a heater, Emma is 52, Gala is 25, and a bookkeeper, Megda is 22 and a stenographer. (1920 Federal Census)

Gabrelia Ann “Gala” Chase Kelley Quincy died 6 Sept 1924, at Lonsdale, Providence County, Rhode Island. She was 83 years old. She is buried back home in South Dennis, sharing a gravestone with her beloved brother Johial but of course it’s only a memorial to him. There is a photograph of her as well as her gravestone at Findagrave.com, Memorial ID 148540852. 

Photograph of Gabrelia and her gravestone source:Findagrave.com

Mr. Butler said that even though Emma worked as a librarian at the Davis Circulating Library in Pawtucket to supplement her husband’s erratic income, the family still lost their first home to foreclosure and moved from one affordable rental to another. 

Emma as an Older Adult

Emma wrote her will in April 1929 and Mr. Butler said that out of concern for the financial well being of her unmarried daughters, she stipulated Benjamin was not to receive a penny from her estate. (File no 3472, Probate Court, East Providence RI) 

Benjamin predeceased Emma, dying of heart disease in November 1929. Times were tough financially for Emma during the Depression, although both of her daughters had good jobs as secretaries. Emma’s aunt Lavina Chase was the last of her family and since she never married, she left most of her estate to Emma when she died in 1933. Emma was able to purchase a home and live comfortably for the final five years of her life.

If house numbers are the same, this is Emma's home at 104 Center St., Rumford

In 1930 Emma is living on Brown Street in Providence, age 60, a widow. Her daughter Gala is 30, single, a private secretary. Daughter Medga is 27, single, and impressively a head clerk with the Attorney General’s Office. (1930 Federal Census)

Emma died, also of heart disease, at home on 104 Centre Street, Rumford (the northern section of East Providence, Rhode Island) on 22 October 1938. She was 74 years of age. She is buried at Moshassuck Cemetery in Central Falls, next to her husband and daughters.

The Hawkins Family Gravestone source:Findagrave.com

Emma’s Identification as a Black Writer

Both of Emma’s books were reprinted in the 1988 Schomburg Library of Nineteenth-Century Black Women Writers. The project was under the direction of Henry Louis Gates, Jr., a Harvard University Professor and host of the PBS genealogy show Finding Your Roots. 

I have read both of Emma’s books. The plots center on young Christian women who seem to lead God-fearing yet still carefree lives, and in the second novel they are vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard. That Emma’s mother made sure Emma was well-educated is shown through her talent as a writer and her mentioning he literary work of writers such as Dickens and Longfellow in her novels.

I shared genealogical information I had found with Flynn and we corresponded for some time. In her research, Flynn found that the idea of Emma being black came about in 1955 when she was included in A Century of Fiction by American Negros 1853-1952: A Descriptive Bibliography by Maxwell Whiteman who assumed Kelley-Hawkins was of African descent based on her photograph in Megda, classifying her as a “Negro author.” This identification of her as black was unquestioned for 50 years.

In Emma’s books there is no indication of the challenges facing black women at that time and they contain no political or social protest statements, and many characters in the books are described as having skin as white as snow, blonde hair, and blue eyes. It seems so strange to me that scholars never questioned her racial identity in all those years. Laziness and making assumptions is not exactly top-notch scholarship. 

It turns out Flynn wasn’t the only scholar studying this case of mistaken identity. On 20 February 2005, The Boston Globe published an article by doctoral student Holly Jackson entitled “Mistaken Identity: What if a Novelist Celebrated as a Pioneer of African American Women’s Literature Turned Out Not to be Black at All?” 

Jackson did extensive research on Emma and her ancestors. She found that in four generations, over the course of 80 years, every single member of her family identified as white. She found that Oak Bluffs as a black resort destination did not extend as far back as the 1890s when Emma’s novels were published. Before the 20th century, blacks on Martha’s Vineyard were more likely to be domestic workers than vacationers. 

Flynn published her findings as “A Case of Mistaken Identity: Finding Emma Dunham (nee Kelley) Hawkins,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly, 94:1 (March 2006). She graciously acknowledged me for sharing my family story.

Henry Louis Gates told reporter David Mehegan in the latter’s article “Correcting a case of mistaken identity,” that he was persuaded Emma was not black and her books would be removed from the next edition of the Schomburg series. Gates said of Emma’s photograph: “You put that picture up in my barbershop, and I guarantee the vote would be to make her a sister.” He pointed out he wasn’t the one to first identify Emma as black and he takes no accountability for the error of including her in a series he edited. (The Boston Globe, 5 March 2005)

Emma’s Children and Siblings 

Emma’s daughters inherited their mother’s house at 104 Center Street in Rumford. Gala died there in 1953 at age 59. Gala lived to age 87. They are both buried with their parents. (Gala: findagrave.com Memorial ID 15868303; Magda: ID 15868305) Neither of Emma’s daughters married or had children. Mr. Moulton said they were passionate about women’s rights.

Possibly Megda and Gala Hawkins from my collection of family photos

I was curious what became of Emma’s siblings, so did some research. Her sister Alice May Kelley was born 5 Dec 1859 in Dennis. She married Charles Ephraim Meader (1856-1929) on 6 October 1880 in Cumberland, Rhode Island. She had a daughter Mildred born 23 July 1883 in Lincoln, Rhode Island. Her daughter Charlotte May Meader was born 23 April 1886 in Saylesville, Rhode Island. Again—two daughters! She died 15 April 1932 at age 72 and is also buried at Moshassuck Cemetery in Central Falls.

Alice May Kelley Meader's gravestone

Her half-brother Herbert Quincy was born 17 Jan 1868 at New Bedford., Mass. He married Mary Lee Carter in 1893. They had a son Earl born May 1894. He lived in Pawtucket, Rhode Island as an adult, renting or living in his brother-in-law’s home. He worked as a teamster, a driver for a bakery, a salesman for a printing company, and in a cotton factory. Herbert died 5 Jan 1947 in Pawtucket at age 78. He is also buried Moshassuck Cemetery. 

Herbert Hawkins' gravestone


Although Emma was not a trailblazing black writer, she was a published author at a time when that was rare for working-class women. And more importantly, she was a survivor and her writing revealed her to be a moral, family-oriented, religious woman. My great-grandmother Ethel Kelley Booth was Emma’s first cousin and she kept photographs of Emma and who I believe are Emma’s daughters. Hopefully Emma’s family returned to Dennis for visits, where my great-grandmother Ethel grew up and it seems they continued corresponding, sending photographs. Ethel was a voracious reader, so I like to think that she had Emma’s books in her collection. Ethel’s father, David Howes Kelley, started out as a mariner but changed to work in various jobs on land. Perhaps if he did not turn from the sea, Ethel would have had a tragic Mary life mirroring her cousin Emma.

Photograph from my great-grandmother's collection like bears a likeness to Emma