Archives For Genealogy

Good Morning Starshine

March 9, 2015 — 2 Comments

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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.

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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.

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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.

SOURCES

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.

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Sources

“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.

ETHIOPIA

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.

SS COAMO

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.

SOURCES

1. Bud Shortridge,

http://home.comcast.net/~cshortridge/MERSHIPHIS/AMERSHIPL/SS_COAMO.pdf)

2. Allied Ships Hit by U-Boats, http://uboat.net/allies/merchants/2486.html