Category Archives: family history (includes content that is broader in scope than just genealogy)

post updated – The Pocasset murder





the Pocasset murder (1879)


— Roger W. Smith

my Revolutionary War ancestor




The following is the text of an email of mine to a friend today.


— Roger W. Smith, April 18, 2017






Scott —


My mother’s ancestral link to the Revolutionary War did not go back far.

Her great-great grandfather William Handy was a Revolutionary War soldier.

The line of descent:

Elinor Handy Smith, my mother (1918-1973)

her father Ralph E. Handy (1893-1947)

her grandfather Henry T. Handy (whaler; 1845-1916)

her great-grandfather Joshua Handy (1813-1887)

her great-great grandfather William Handy (1762-1852); the Revolutionary War soldier

All of the above named Handy males, with the exception of my mother’s father, were mariners. They all lived on Cape Cod.

William Handy joined the Continental Army in June 1780, when he was just shy of age 18. He enlisted in Massachusetts. Records indicate that during his service he was in New York state and New Jersey.

William Handy (1762-1852)


My ancestor William Handy was born on August 15, 1762 in Sandwich, Massachusetts, a town on Cape Cod, and died in Sandwich on February 8, 1852 at the age of 89.

Mr. Handy served in the Continental Army under George Washington during the Revolutionary War when he was eighteen years old.

It is astonishing to me to realize the following: Mr. Handy was my mother’s great-great grandfather. That means he goes back only four generations from my mother, Elinor H. Smith (1918-1973; nee Elinor Congdon Handy).

My mother was the daughter of Ralph E. Handy (1893-1947). Her grandfather was Henry T. Handy (1845-1916). Her great-grandfather was Henry Handy’s father, Joshua Handy (1813-1877). Joshua Handy’s father, my mother’s great-great grandfather, was the above mentioned William Handy.

Here’s a very interesting fact, among several, about William Handy. His Revolutionary War service required him to travel to New York State. Presumably, this would have been on foot. During his service, he was present at the execution of Major John André (1750-1780), the British Army officer who was hanged on October 2, 1780 in Tappan, Rockland Country, New York as a spy during the Revolutionary War for assisting Benedict Arnold’s attempted surrender of the fort at West Point to the British.

An account of Major André’s hanging indicates that a large crowd was assembled for the hanging, including many troops.

The hanging is described as follows in an eyewitness account by James Thacher, M.D., a surgeon in the American Revolutionary Army (in his The American Revolution: From the Commencement to the Disbanding of the American Army Given in the Form of a Daily Journal, with the Exact Dates of all the Important Events; Also, a Biographical Sketch of the Most Prominent Generals):

The fatal hour having arrived, a large detachment of troops [italics added] was paraded, and an immense concourse of people assembled; almost all our general and field officers, excepting his excellency [Washington] and staff, were present on horseback; melancholy and gloom pervaded all ranks, and the scene was affectingly awful.

In his History of Cape Cod, vol. II (1862), Rev. Frederick Freeman, who knew Mr. Handy personally, writes:

During the revolutionary period, at a time when it was most difficult to obtain men for the war, he volunteered and served in several campaigns. He was present at the execution of Andre, a scene the incidents of which he related at the very close of his life, not only with nice accuracy but with an exhibition of fine sensibilities and generous feeling.

The full account of Rev. Freeman is as follows:

Capt. William Handy was, in some respects, a remarkable man.

During the revolutionary period, at a time when it was most difficult to obtain men for the war, he volunteered and served in several campaigns.

He was present at the execution of Andre, a scene the incidents of which he related at the very close of his life, not only with nice accuracy but with an exhibition of fine sensibilities and generous feeling.

Endowed with an iron constitution, of good judgment and most determined will — fearless, resolute, and full of energy, his earlier life was chiefly devoted to maritime pursuits — first in the merchant service and then in whaling.

After one whale voyage as mate, he was for many years in command of some of the best and most successful ships engaged in that business, making repeated voyages from New Bedford, and also from Dunkirk in France in pursuance of an arrangement made first by Tupper with Bonaparte when First Consul and afterwards by Rotch with the Consul as Emperor.

Captain Handy’s ability, integrity, and success were proverbial, securing unlimited confidence. Retiring from the seas, he engaged still in maritime affairs, establishing a ship-yard near his house on Buzzard’s Bay and becoming largely a ship-owner.

He sent forth from his own yard the ship Rebecca, the brig Fame, schooners Resolution, Nancy [named after his daughter], Sophronia, Love [named after his wife], Acsah Parker [named after his daughter Acshah Handy, who married Calvin Parker], and sloops Betsy [named after his daughter], Nancy [named after his daughter], Deborah, and other smaller vessels designed for the Long Island Sound trade during the war of 1812. These last smaller vessels were, for greater security against the ravages of the enemy, built near his door at a distance from the shore, and then without great difficulty launched across fields to their intended element.

Capt. H. suffered greatly from French spoliations, as well as from the war of 1812; but cherished faith in the tardy justice of his country to the very last of life.

When more than 60 years old he resolved, to replenish his coffers and “to show the boys how to take whales,” to adventure one more voyage. His purpose was no sooner known in New Bedford than eminent merchants and ship-owners were ready to further his views. Put in command of the Com. Decatur in 1821, he accomplished in 15 months a most successful cruise to the admiration of all.

He had an utter repugnance to public life, and yet was elected Selectman, and commissioned as Jus. Pac.

Anecdotes might be related of him … showing the energy and daring of the man; and one … would be of thrilling interest — that of a rencontre by himself and one other with a white polar bear, engaged upon the ice and snows without firearms. The contest was desperate; but the bear weighing more than 500 lbs. labored under the disadvantage of breaking through the snow-crust, whilst his assailants were supported by it and finally conquered.

William Handy married Love Swain (ca. 1779-1857), who was born on Nantucket. Love Swain Handy was a descendant of the first settlers of Nantucket, including Peter Folger (ca. 1618-1690), Benjamin Franklin’s maternal grandfather.

The couple had nine children, the youngest of whom was Capt. Joshua Handy (1813-1877), our mother, Elinor H. Smith’s great-grandfather.

Love (Swain) Handy, William Handy’s widow, applied on April 14, 1855 for a pension based on her husband’s service in the Revolutionary War.


— Roger W. Smith

     May 2016


James Bunker Congdon


Posted here is a photograph of a portrait of James Bunker Congdon (1802-1880), a leading nineteenth century citizen of New Bedford, Massachusetts in its heyday.

Also posted here is a photograph of Mr. Congdon from the archives of the New Bedford Free Public Library.

The Congdon portrait currently hangs in the New Bedford city council chambers. It belongs to the New Bedford Free Public Library, where it was originally hung (and where I saw it some 15 years ago).

The painting was commissioned by the library in 1868 by several prominent members of the community and presented to the library. Joseph Eaton, a noted New York painter whose students included William Merritt Chase, was the portraitist.



James Bunker Congdon is of interest to me because – while not a direct ancestor – he was an illustrious member of a New Bedford, Massachusetts family from which my mother, Elinor Smith (nee Elinor Congdon Handy), was descended.

My maternal grandmother, Annie Congdon Handy (nee Hart; 1894-1972), was the great grandniece of James B. Congdon.

Here’s how the descent works.

James Bunker Congdon was the son of Caleb Congdon (1767-1832), a hatter and whaler.

Caleb Congdon’s daughter Lydia Congdon (1793-1830) married Gamaliel Hart (circa 1791-1834), who was the great-grandfather of my maternal grandmother, Annie Congdon (Hart) Handy.

Caleb Congdon and his wife, Susanna (Taber) Congdon, had ten children. Besides a daughter, Lydia – mentioned in the above paragraph – their children included their third son, James B. Congdon.

James B. Congdon (my maternal grandmother’s great-granduncle) held numerous important positions in adulthood:

— He was the first cashier of the Merchants Bank.

— He served as city treasurer and collector for many years.

— He was named registrar of the Acushnet Water Board upon its establishment.

— He was the first president of the New Bedford Gas Light Company and afterwards its clerk and treasurer for a quarter of a century.

— He served as sectary and treasurer of the New Bedford Railway and Wharf Company.

— He was treasurer and one of the directors of the Acushnet Iron Foundry.

Mr. Congdon held government posts as Chairman of the Board of Selectmen, City Treasurer and Collector of Taxes, and member of the school committee for eleven years.

He was dedicated to civic causes:

— He was recording secretary of the New Bedford Anti-Slavery Society.

— He was president of the New Bedford Society for Aiding Discharged Convicts.

— He was a vice president of the New Bedford Society of Natural History.

Mr. Congdon was instrumental in the founding of the New Bedford Free Public Library and was chosen as one of its trustees.

Mr. Congdon also attained distinction as a writer. In an obituary, it was stated that he “was a writer of good ability, well versed in local history, and prepared reports, historical sketches and other publications of the many institutions of which he was an officer. The appendix of historical details in the `Centennial of New Bedford,’ published in 1876, was edited by him.”

His obituary states that James B. Congdon “was at his death probably the best known citizen of New Bedford, and enjoyed the general respect of the community.”




Thank yous are due to Janice Hodson, Curator of Art, Special Collections Department, New Bedford Free Public Library, who sent me a photograph of James B. Congdon’s portrait and the photograph of him; and to Marsha Parham, who responded to an initial inquiry by me and also sent me a photograph of the Congdon portrait. Ms. Perham’s husband, James Perham, a former City Auditor of New Bedford, is a Congdon descendant.


— Roger W. Smith

     April 2016



James Bunker Congdon.jpg





James Bunker Congdon photograph.jpg



Jane (Gilchrist) Smith (1834-1907)



Jane (Gilchrist) Smith, wife of Thomas Smith (1837-1902), was my great-great grandmother.

She was born in December 1834 in Paisley, a town in Renfrew County, Scotland which is close to Glasgow, a distance of about seven miles.

Her parents – my great-great-great grandparents — were John and Agnes (Christie) Gilchrist. John Gilchrist was a boiler maker.

As a young woman, including early during her marriage to Thomas Smith — whom she married in Glasgow in July 1859 — Jane Gilchrist was employed as a winder of cotton. Paisley, her birthplace, was a center of the weaving industry.

Jane and her husband Thomas Smith emigrated to Boston with their five children in June 1872. Jane died in Boston on August 1, 1907 at age 72.

Jane was the mother of nine children, two of whom died in infancy. The five other children born in Scotland emigrated with Jane and her husband, Thomas. Two other children — William and Edward Smith, my grandfather’s uncles — were born in Boston in 1873 and 1875, respectively.

Jane could not read or write. She signed birth certificates for her children and her will with an “X.”


— Roger W. Smith

     April 2016



Paisley Town Hall.jpg





See also:


Thomas Smith and Jane (Gilchrist) Smith, from Scotland to Boston, MA, 1872



The family of Thomas Smith (1837-1902) and Jane (Gilchrist) Smith (1834-1907) of Boston, MA



Thomas Smith (1837-1902)

Thomas Smith (1837-1902)



My great-great grandfather, Thomas Smith, was born on May 25 1837, almost certainly in the village of Milton in the County of Dumbarton in Scotland. (One source confuses things by indicating that he was born in Glasgow; this appears to be an error.) His father, John Smith, was a weaver.

Thomas Smith, his wife Jane (Gilchrist) Smith, and their five children – ages one to ten years old – emigrated to Boston (taking passage on a steamer from Liverpool) in June 1872.

Thomas was a laborer; his occupation was brass finisher. In Boston, he found work at William T. Foster & Company in East Boston, who, in an advertisement in 1886, described their business thusly: “brass founders, ship plumbers, and metal dealers; ship bells, water closets, side lights, steerers, and every description of ship fastenings and trimming.”

Thomas and his family lived on Bennington Street in East Boston. Bennington Street is in the section known as Orient Heights, which is where my grandfather, Thomas Gordon Smith, was born. Orient Heights is on the Blue Line, which goes to Logan Airport, and is quite close to the airport.

The elder Thomas Smith, my great-great grandfather, died in Boston on October 16, 1902 at age 65.

Thomas Smith and Jane Gilchrist were married in Glasgow in 1859. They lived for a couple of years on James Street in the Bridgeton section of Glasgow.

In around 1863, they moved with their two young children to the city of Greenock. One of these children was Thomas Smith, Jr. (b. 1861), my great-grandfather.

The family lived for about ten years on Duncan Street in Greenock before emigrating.

I visited Greenock in 1999. It’s a nice town on a human scale. Its population is around 44,000. Many of the buildings are old. The town does not appear prosperous, quite; on the other hand, it does not seem to be gloomy or run-down.


Addendum: One additional fact of some interest. It is noted above that the father of my great-great grandfather Thomas Smith (1837-1902) was John Smith. The maiden name of Thomas Smith’s mother, my great-great-great grandmother, was Gordon. This is noteworthy because people in earlier times were more accustomed than they are now to use family surnames in naming their children. My grandfather, Thomas Gordon Smith’s (1885-1967), middle name was Gordon.


— Roger W. Smith

     April 2016











See also:



Thomas Smith and Jane (Gilchrist) Smith, from Scotland to Boston, MA, 1872



The family of Thomas Smith (1837-1902) and Jane (Gilchrist) Smith (1834-1907) of Boston, MA

the Pocasset murder (1879)




the Pocasset murder

re the Pocasset murder – Falmouth Enterprise 5-22-1987

selected newspaper articles about the Pocasset murder – updated March 2021


NY Times 5-6-1879

NY Times 5-6-1879 (2)

Boston Globe 5-6-1880

Boston Globe 5-1-1883

Boston Globe 11-30-1883

Boston Globe 12-5-1883

Boston Globe 12-6-1883

NY Times 3-17-1887.



See attached, downloadable Word documents (above).

Plus, see text below (which includes a summary/abstract).







Five year old Edith Burgess Freeman (b. July 27, 1874) was murdered in 1879 by her father in their home on the town of Pocasset on Cape Cod in what has been described as a “ritual killing.”

In this article, I have attempted to uncover the facts about the case. It was well publicized at the time, but seems to have been largely forgotten.

See attached downloadable Word file (above).

I became interested in the case, which I had never heard of until recently, because some of my mother’s distant ancestors and their relatives were involved. The murderer was the son-in-law of my mother’s great-grandmother.  And, my mother’s great-grandmother defended the actions of the son-in-law, Charles F. Freeman (the murderer); and of her daughter Hattie (Ellis) Freeman (my maternal grandfather’s aunt), who initially supported her husband, a religious fanatic, believing that his actions were justified on religious grounds.


– Roger W. Smith

     August 2016; updated March 2021






Charles F. Freeman and his wife Harriet R. (Ellis) Freeman with granddaughter.



Harriet R. (Ellis) Freeman



The Freeman house in Pocasset

Branch Rickey, James W. Bashford, Whittredge connection


In 2004, I wrote two fairly long articles for Notable Sports Figures, published by Gale, a reference book publisher based in Michigan.

The reference work focused on, included, articles about sports figures who had an impact on society or culture larger than just sports. My two articles were on Branch Rickey and Leo “The Lip” Durocher.

The article on Branch Rickey included the following paragraphs (italicized):

In March 1901, Rickey enrolled at Ohio Wesleyan University (OWU) in Delaware, Ohio, a Methodist school. He had not been expected to go to college and had to talk his father into letting him attend. Rickey played on the OWU football and baseball teams in his freshman year. To help pay school costs, he also played baseball during summer vacation for a local semipro team, earning $25 a game. When he returned to school, Rickey found to his surprise that playing for money had caused him to lose his athletic eligibility. The president of OWU, Dr. James W. Bashford, gave Rickey a way to get back his eligibility by suggesting that he sign a paper denying the charges that he had played for money, but Rickey said he could not do so and attest to something that was false.

In the spring of 1903, the OWU baseball coach resigned and Bashford, who had been impressed by Rickey’s honesty and character in the loss of eligibility incident, asked Rickey, who was in his sophomore year, to take over as the school’s baseball coach. During his first season, Rickey witnessed a couple of notable instances of overt racism against the only black player on the OWU team, first baseman Charles Thomas. These incidents made an “indelible” impression on him.

The incident with Charles Thomas, the black first baseman on the OWU team, is recounted in biographies of Branch Rickey and in Paul Aron’s book, Did Babe Ruth Call His Shot? and Other Unsolved Mysteries of Baseball.

The first paragraph above of mine mentions James W. Bashford, president of Ohio Wesleyan University. Branch Rickey was, throughout his life, a devout Methodist.

It is an established fact that the family of our mother, Elinor Handy Smith (1918-1973) in Danvers, Mass. were Congregationalists. The roots of our father, Alan W. Smith’s 1917-1989), religious ancestry were Methodist.

On November 11, 1877, James Flint Whittredge, salesman, and Camelia Anna Moulton were married at the Harrison Square Methodist Episcopal Church on Parkman Street in Boston by Rev. James W. Bashford, the one and same person who became the president of Ohio Wesleyan University and who is mentioned above in connection with Branch Rickey’s student days there.

James F. Whittredge (1856-1938) and Camelia Moulton Whittredge (18580-1920) were the parents of Esther Whittredge Smith (1886-1970), the mother of our father Alan W. Smith. James F. Whittredge, was, therefore, the grandfather, on our paternal grandmother’s side, of our father, Alan W. Smith.


— Roger W. Smith

     December 2015

Elisha Macomber (ca. 1775-1855), advertisement for farm


Elisha Macomber (ca. 1775-1855), advertisement for farm, New Bedford Mercury, March 12, 1819


Elisha Macomber farm advertisement.jpg

“Farm at Auction,” New Bedford Mercury, New Bedford, Mass., March 12, 1819


Henry T. Handy (1845-1916) advertisement, 1900 (“Teaming and Jobbing”)



Henry T. Handy (1845-1916) of Cataumet, Massachusetts (part of the town of Bourne on Cape Cod) was my mother’s paternal grandfather. After a brief career as a whaler, he returned home and became a farmer.

This advertisement appeared in the Bourne, Falmouth, Sandwich (Mass.) Directory for the year 1900.



Henry T.  Handy advertisement (teaming and jobbing)