From Forty-fourth, I turn right on Fifth. Thirty-three blocks later, I turn right again. Halfway down the block, I am standing in front of the building where my mother met my father sixty-four years ago.Continue Reading...
Archives For Family History
The restaurant was crowded and they added a table to the end of a booth to make room.
We had arrived the night before. It was our reunion and it had been forty years since we graduated from the high school in the small town where we grew up.
That town was a factory town. My classmates were the children of the men and women who built the engine magnetos that won the second World War and the electronic parts that helped astronauts land on the moon.
We grew up together in turbulent times. We were too young to understand why our parents cried after learning that President Kennedy had died in Dallas. We were in second grade when Martin Luther King and Bobby were killed.
Jane Roe won her case against Sheriff Henry Wade when we were in seventh grade. Later that year Nixon went to China. He resigned in disgrace before ninth grade began.
The war in Vietnam began before we were in kindergarten. Seven boys died within weeks of each other during the Tet Offensive and the last Americans left Saigon from the roof of the embassy in the spring before we entered high school.
We did what children everywhere did. We finished our homework before bedtime and walked or bused to school. We fretted over braces, pimples, bad hair and clothes that didn’t fit. We worried about the SATs and thought about college, careers and someday getting married and raising families.
Tonight we spoke only of the good times we had shared years ago. Frisbee games and prom dates and dancing to slow music. Messages left on yearbook pages, indoor track records and traveling to Florida with the marching band.
We smiled and laughed and did not cry.
The restaurant was empty when we said goodbye. The dishes were cleared and the extra table was pushed back to where it belonged, removing too soon the last sign of a perfect reunion.
Three nephews, three races. That is the deal I struck with Tommy, Alex and Matt in 2014. Alex was my partner last year. This Memorial Day it’s Tommy’s turn.
Memorial Day has always been a special holiday in Sidney. My sisters, brother and I grew up marching in the annual parade in our Boy Scout and Girl Scout uniforms. We would start at the Prospect Hill Cemetery. From there we marched down the hill, across the railroad tracks, past a sandwich shop and along Main Street to a flagpole in front of the village Post Office for a wreath laying ceremony. After the parade we’d visit the Regatta grounds for one last day of carnival rides and food before heading back to school on Tuesday.
This Memorial Day weekend Sidney dedicated its newly finished memorial park to veterans. I didn’t make it in time for the opening ceremony but visited it with Tommy and Matt before heading to Cooperstown for the start of this year’s 70 mile endurance race.
I spend most of my visit studying the memorial to the veterans from my high school and learn that the American Legion Post my father belonged to was named for Charles Jacobi who was killed during the First World War and that two brothers, Kenneth and Douglas Keller, lost their lives during the Second. I cannot imagine how devastating that must have been to their parents and classmates.
Then I read the nine names on the Vietnam plaque. Seven of these veterans grew up in a small nearby town called Sidney Center. At the time it had a population of about 500 and in a period of less than 90 days seven families received visits notifying them that their sons had been killed. I did not know them or their families but you can read about them here, and you should.
While studying the plaque I remember what it was like to grow up during that conflict. I was not yet 4 years old when Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that authorized the use of conventional military force in Southeast Asia. I was 7 when 70,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops began the Tet Offensive, the battle that would take the lives of the seven young men from Sidney Center.
Woodstock would take place 70 miles from the house where I grew up, during the summer before I turned 9. My friend Sandy, who lived in Sidney Center, would later wear a POW Bracelet. The war would end and Saigon would fall before I graduated and that is why, thankfully, none of my classmates’ names are on that wall.
I spend the rest of the day preparing for Monday’s race and watching Alex and his friend compete in the 15 mile sprint race. On race day we are a little behind schedule getting to the start line and in the rush I drop my sunglasses into Otsego Lake. I try to scoop them with my paddle but it doesn’t work and I watch the glasses that I was wearing when I crashed badly on my bike and when I crossed the finish line of the Lake Placid Iron Man sink slowly away.
The race was grueling, as I suppose it always is. It was hot and humid in the morning and then it rained when we had about 12 miles to go. Tommy worked hard all day and our paddling was evenly balanced and efficient. We made it through the most challenging sections of the river without any problem but flipped later after misjudging any easy rapid just south of Wells Bridge. The heat took its toll and the first half of the race went much slower than last year. We were faster below Oneonta and finished just a few minutes behind last year’s time.
I leave Sidney early Tuesday and pass through downtown. It looks much different than it did in the 1970s. I drive down the hill and across the railroad tracks and remember that when the ceasefire was declared in 1972 the sandwich shop located there changed the letters on its outdoor sign to read “Peace – Thank God” and how relieved everyone in Sidney was that the Vietnam war was coming to an end.
I stop at the newly repaired traffic light and then cross over the river on my way out of town. I am a bit sore and glad to leave the river behind me. But more than anything, I am proud that the tiny village where I grew up has built such a fitting memorial to the nine Sidney graduates who did not live to see the message on the sandwich shop sign at the bottom of the hill across the railroad tracks.
My nephew Tommy lives in the house where my father died. He sleeps in the room I shared with his father before I moved a bed and some other furniture to the shed next to the garage. In a week he will graduate from Sidney Senior High School, thirty-seven years after I received my diploma from the same school.
This weekend Tommy brought three of his friends to Lake Placid to celebrate their graduation and to hike with me to Algonquin Peak and Wright Peak.
We arrived at the trailhead before 8:00 AM and took our first rest break as we crossed below the waterfall on MacIntyre Creek. We hiked quickly and were the first group to make it to the summit of Algonquin today.
The summit was encased in fog and the wind was strong and very cold. We finished our lunches quickly and headed back down to pick up the trail to Wright Peak. It was still foggy when we reached the top but we stayed long enough to watch the fog finally lift, revealing a magnificent view of the peak we had just climbed.
The trails were wet and slippery during the descent and before long Tommy, Brandon, Kyle and Nick pulled away from me.
As I walked down the trail by myself it occurred to me that the town where we all grew up has changed drastically since the day I received my diploma. The factory that first made Magnetos for the Army Air Corps during World War Two and later important components used in the Apollo lunar missions is nothing like it was in the 70s, having lost most of its manufacturing jobs when they were moved to Jacksonville, Florida. The movie theatre in the center of downtown closed years ago and the roller rink recently burned to the ground. The village’s oldest houses along River and Bridge streets were devastated by back to back floods and may need to be torn down. The football team used to have to play all of its games on the road because the field didn’t drain right. Even the traffic signal on Main Street has stopped working.
And yet somehow despite all this my home town has survived and still remains a great place to make friends who will last a lifetime. And for Tommy, Brandon, Nick and Kyle that is more than enough.
Anna Elizabeth Hubert was born on August 11, 1914, in Newark, New Jersey and died on August 27, 1956, in Saranac Lake, New York. She was my grandmother. She had two brothers, John and Edward, and one daughter, Mary Ann, who was my mother.
Anna worked in a hospital and contracted Tuberculosis, which is how she ended up in Saranac Lake where she received treatment at Trudeau’s sanatorium. She was in Saranac Lake on November 18, 1942, when she received a telegram from her husband, Edward McGrath, who was on a layover in England before heading home on the troop transport SS Coamo. His message to her was short but very sweet,
ALL WELL AND SAFE MY THOUGHTS ARE WITH YOU FONDEST LOVE DARLING
She was still in Saranac Lake when she learned that his ship had been lost at sea; when Army Chief of Staff General Marshall sent her official condolences; and also on December 15, 1943, when Secretary of War Henry Stimson wrote advising her that a Purple Heart had been awarded posthumously to her husband, explaining:
The medal, which you will receive shortly, is of slight intrinsic value, but rich with the tradition for which Americans are so gallantly giving their lives. The Father of our country, whose profile and coat of arms adorn the medal, speaks from across the centuries to the men who fight today for the proud freedom he founded.
And she was still in Saranac Lake on November 23, 1948, when a letter came confirming that my grandfather died when a German U-Boat torpedoed the Coamo.
While my grandmother was dealing with her disease and the loss of her husband, my mother was in Islip Terrace being raised by her grandmother, Katherina Hubert, and her uncles, John and Ed. They also served during the war and John would return home seriously injured, walking with a limp and unable to use his left arm and hand.
My grandmother died before I was born, but John and Ed and their children and grandchildren were an important part of our family. In the late 60’s and early 70’s we spent our summer vacations visiting John and Ed in Islip Terrace. Some of the best times we had during those visits were trips to John’s beach house in Fire Island Pines, which we reached by taking the Sayville Ferry. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, we actually witnessed first hand the conversion of the Pines from a place with a sign that proclaimed “Welcome to Fire Island Pines — A Family Community” into the much more sexually liberated, tolerant and diverse community it is today.
There were no cars on Fire Island because there were no roads. Instead there were only boardwalks and everyone used red Radio Flyer wagons to carry groceries and beach chairs and towels. We were often joined by John’s grandchildren and together the seven of us would fish for eels off the harbor dock or wade into the Great South Bay and shuffle our feet to find clams, which my dad would steam for dinner. I learned to body surf on the Atlantic side of the island and first read about the adventures of Ian Fleming’s James Bond from paperbacks I found on the bookshelves that lined the walls of the beach house.
We were there in the summer of 1968 shortly after the musical “Hair” opened on Broadway and also in the summer of 1969 when Oliver’s rendition of Good Morning Starshine became a hit. Sometime after that a decision was made to play the song over the loud speakers set up around the harbor every morning at 7:00 AM.
John’s house was close to the harbor and that song served as our alarm clock, welcoming us each morning to the start of another amazing day on Fire Island with my mother and her Uncle John.
My mother spent her high school years in Saranac Lake while her mother, a nurse who treated tuberculosis patients, attempted to recover from the same disease. She told me stories of how she and her classmates would take a motor boat from Lower Saranac through the Upper Lock and into Middle Saranac Lake. I’d often wanted to visit that lock and repeat that trip and yesterday I got my chance.
We left the Second Pond boat launch at noon, traveling in a canoe and a kayak. A light rain fell most of the day and there was a strong headwind at the start of the trip. We traveled upstream to the end of Lower Saranac and entered the channel connecting the two lakes. Halfway through we came upon the Upper Lock and visited with the lock keeper as she closed the downstream gates behind us and then opened the upstream wickets causing the water level to rise the two feet necessary to bypass the rapids on the other side of the island.
When we reached Upper Saranac, we stopped for lunch at the first island we came to and then decided to head back. We spent some more time visiting with the lock keeper on the return trip. She explained that the lock had been in place for nearly 100 years with its last major upgrade in the 1980s. On a busy day she will operate the lock more than 100 times. As the water drained to lower us to the exit, she explained that some canoeists actually run the rapids rather than use the lock.
When the downstream gate opened, we paddled around the island and after a short consultation decided to make one more pass through the lock. The keeper shook her head when we passed into the downstream gate and disclaimed any responsibility for damage or injury as the water filled the lock. When the gate opened we turned left, entered the channel and several exhilarating seconds later shot out the end of the rapids and rejoined the calmer waters.
As we paddled away I wished I had visited the lock earlier in my life and been able to share this story with my mother.
This is the story of Lydia Presbrey and Samuel Hoskins, the man she married on June 13, 1776.
The story begins with the Presbrey family well established in Taunton, Lydia’s grandfather having married Hannah Smith a member of one of the oldest and most prominent families in the Massachusetts colony. Lydia’s father, William, was the oldest son and first in line to inherit this estate. There were four sisters in the family. The oldest was Mary, who was four years older than Elizabeth, who was two years older than Lydia, who was two years older than the youngest daughter, Abigail.
In 1773, their father died unexpectedly at age 47, having only outlived Lydia’s grandfather by two years. At the time of his death, the two oldest children, William and Mary, were already married. A sizable estate was left to the family, but nearly half of it passed directly to William as the oldest son. Lydia’s two remaining sisters, Elizabeth and Abigail, were married in 1775.
All this occurred in the months leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, in the midst of social and political unrest in Massachusetts. On March 3, 1774, for example, the British Parliament enacted the Boston Port Act in response to the Boston Tea Party. It outlawed, by blockade, the use of the Port of Boston until restitution was made for the lost customs duty and the damages suffered by the East India Company.
This blockade and other hostile acts by the British, prompted the Provincial Congress, on October 26, 1774, to call for local militias to organize themselves into companies of Minute (sometimes spelled “Minnit”) Men, who were to be equipped and prepared to march at a moment’s notice.
A week earlier, on October 19, 1774, the Red Flag of Taunton was raised in protest on a Liberty Pole in the village green.
The Third Regiment of Bristol County was organized on November 19, 1774, and divided into an East Division and a West Division. On February 6, 1775, the East Division raised three Minnit Men companies and Samuel served as a private in the Company commanded by Captain Robert Crossman.
Two months later, on the evening of April 18, 1775, eight hundred British soldiers marched from Boston to Concord to destroy the military stores deposited there. The British fired upon militia men at Lexington early on the 19th, killing eight men, marking the start of the War of Independence in what would become known as the battle of Lexington and Concord.
The reports about Lexington and Concord arrived in Taunton late on the 19th and Samuel along with the rest of Captain Crossman’s Company marched for Roxbury on April 20th to provide support. After the battle, the Provincial Congress ordered that an Army be created. Taunton was required to furnish one Company of men for the new Army and Samuel served as a Private in this Company, which was led by Captain Oliver Soper. This enlistment lasted from May 2, 1775, thru August 1, 1775.
Samuel was home from the fall of 1775 through the spring of 1776 and on May 1, 1776, he joined nearly one hundred other men from Taunton in signing a document known as the Solemn League and Covenant. The signers committed themselves to making war against the British and defending the Colonies, promises that amounted to treason at the time.
Lydia and Samuel’s first child was conceived later that night.
Bristol County’s militia was reorganized in the spring of 1776 and Samuel was ordered to report to his new assignment in Colonel Thomas Marshall’s Regiment on June 27, 1776. Lydia and Samuel were married two weeks earlier, she now well into her pregnancy and he about to leave again for battle, perhaps never to return.
Samuel survived the ensuing skirmishes and had other enlistments through 1781. In 1784, he along with his father’s family moved to Berkshire County and later to Whitehall in Washington County, New York. In 1798, they moved to Scipio in Cayuga County, New York, where Samuel owned a farm in the Military Tract of Central New York
Samuel and Lydia Hoskins spent the rest of their lives together in Scipio and had eight children. Melinda, the child conceived on the night Samuel signed the Covenant, did not make the journey to New York, having died before the War of Independence was won.
1. Hoskins, Edwin Ray, A Hoskins Family Record with Reference to the Descendants of William Hoskins (Son of Henry and Ann Winthrop Hoskins) Migrated to Massachusetts 1633 (E. R. Hoskins 1963) (U.S. Library of Congress, CS71.H351 1963). Samuel Hoskins was born on September 9, 1753, the oldest son of Joshua and Lydia (Robinson) Hoskins. Samuel’s ancestors are traced as follows: Samuel 6; Joshua 5; Samuel 4; Samuel 3; William 2; Henry 1. The first american, William 2 (b. 1615, d. 9/7/1695) migrated to Massachusetts in 1633, and married first Sarah Cushman and second Ann Hinde (sometimes identified as Hinds or Hynes), who was the mother of Samuel 3.
2. The Boston Port Act, 14 Geo. III. c. 19.
3. Emery, Samuel Hopkins, History of Taunton, Massachusetts From its Settlement to the Present Time (D. Mason & Co. 1893), Chapter XX, page 435-39, 445, 483
4. Hurd, D. Hamilton, History of Bristol County, Massachusetts, with Biographical Sketches of Many of its Pioneers and Prominent Men (J. W. Lewis & Co. 1883), page 845.
5. Rev. Joseph Waite Presby, William Presbrey, of London, England, and Taunton, Mass., and his descendants, 1690-1918 (1918, The Tuttle Company).
My paternal grandfather, Edwin Ray Hoskins, was a professor of agricultural education at Cornell and an avid genealogist. The family history he published in 1963 is full of stories about journeys and choices in life, but none more fateful than the story of a young British sailor who one day decided to walk away from his ship and start a new life in America.
That sailor, William Presbrey, was born in Blackfriars, a section of the southwestern part of old London, in 1690. Parents at this time often “bound out” a child to another family, or elsewhere, to remain until he became of age, to learn a trade. And when William was ten years old, he was bound out for service in the British Navy.
Eleven years later his ship landed in Boston Harbor and, on July 30, 1711, William became a deserter after being granted permission to go ashore. Instead of returning to his ship he fled Boston, walking for four days through the fields and woods until he reached Taunton. There he stopped at the house of Nathaniel Crossman, who was a farmer, miller and shoemaker.
Nathaniel hired William for a year or two and history recounts that William rigged the first properly equipped sailing vessel used on the Taunton River, drawing on his training from the British Navy. William then married Hannah Smith from one of the oldest families in the Colony and lived until he was eighty-one years old. William and Hannah had two sons, William and Joseph, and one daughter Hannah, who died a young woman.
The older son, William, worked as a deck hand on cargo vessels and a shoemaker, and lived in that part of Taunton known as the Weir. He married May White and they had the following children: William (1746-1832); Mary (1747-1832); John (Nov. 15-19, 1749); Elizabeth (1751-1816); Seth (1752-1833); Lydia (1753-1824); Abigail (1755-1836); John (1756-1845); Simeon (1758-1840); Levi (1760-1800) and a daughter born and died in March, 1762.
Lydia married Samuel Hoskins, who fought in the War of Independence. Their journey together is a story for another day.
For now, I’ll close with an ironic quote from Joseph Waite Presby’s genealogy:
Someone has said: “trace your ancestry back a few generations and you will find a gallows and a member of the family hanging on it.” That might be true in some families but it is not true of the descendants of William Presbrey. We have found no record of any one in our family who has ever been tried in court for any crime or misdemeanor, or been sentenced to prison. We do not by any means claim that all have been saints or angels, or even perfect in character; but the members of this family for several generations have ranked among the steady, law-abiding, industrious class of citizens who have helped to develop the resources and business interests of this country and make this Republic a model among the nations. Like most of the settlers in the Old Colony, the Presbreys were immigrants from England, and just the right kind of people to subdue the wilderness and plant the institutions of civil and religious liberty in the new world.
So, while I’ll be sure to remember William’s journey on July 30th, I won’t forget that had the British Navy caught him in that summer of 1711, none of this ever would have happened.
“To The Generations of Presbreys in Coming Time, I Bequeath this Genealogical Document” (1825 & 1845), available at Old Colony Historical Society, Taunton, Mass.
Rev. Joseph Waite Presby, William Presbrey, of London, England, and Taunton, Mass., and his descendants, 1690-1918 (1918, The Tuttle Company).
Edwin Ray Hoskins, A Hoskins Family Record with reference to the Descendants of William Hoskins (Son of Henry and Ann Winthrop Hoskins) Migrated to Massachusetts 1633 (Scipio Center, N.Y., 1963), CS71.H351 1963, U.S. Library of Congress, 118 NEHGR 165.
Military History Now, This is Gonna Hurt — Military Punishment Throughout the Ages
I visited Long Island this weekend to attend a wedding and remembered a conversation long ago with my late mother, Mary Ann McGrath Hoskins, about her father who had died in the North Atlantic during the early days of WWII. According to my mom, Central Islip renamed streets in honor of its war dead, and a street had been named for her father. Although I’d spent many summers on Long Island as a kid, to my knowledge we had never visited the street. On July 6, 2013, with the help of Google Maps, I found it after a five minute drive from the airport:
Lat. 40:47:31.86, Long. -73:12:1.01
Edward F. McGrath was born on April 24, 1912, in New York, the son of Andrew R. McGrath and Winifred M. Mulrooney. He was the fourth of six children. He enlisted on June 4, 1942, at Fort Jay on Governor’s Island in New York. He had previously worked as an attendant at the Central Islip Asylum
Winifred was born in 1876 in the Irish Free State, and emigrated to the US through Ellis Island as a passenger on the ship Ethiopia, a British flagged ship built for the Anchor Line, which set sail from Londonderry in late July, 1899.
Forty-three years later her son, my grandfather, was lost at sea aboard the steam passenger ship Coamo, after it was torpedoed by U-604, while desparately trying to make it home to New York.
The Coamo was sailing as part of convoy MKF-3 and was about 150 miles west of Ireland when it left the convoy on orders of the British Admiralty and proceeded independently towards New York. At 10:18 PM on December 2, 1942, U-604 fired one torpedo from 800 yards at the Coamo that was traveling at 17.5 knots. The torpedo struck under the bridge and caused her to sink in about five minutes. The ship had eleven officers, 122 crewmen, 37 armed guards and 16 US Army passengers on board.
A few men were seen leaving the ship on rafts but they were likely killed in the gale that swept the area for three days beginning on December 3rd. This was the greatest single loss of a merchant crew on any U.S. Flag merchant vessel during the Second World War.
By my count, twelve families now live on McGrath Street in Central Islip. This is the story of how their street got its name.
1. Bud Shortridge,
2. Allied Ships Hit by U-Boats, http://uboat.net/allies/merchants/2486.html