Tag: cemetery

Robert Hamilton, tailor, of Lesmahagow

As a tailor, Robert Hamilton was often on the road, visiting customers’ homes to fit and sew their clothes on the spot. But the winter of 1789 was a cold one in Lesmahagow, Scotland and, on January 12, there was a “great draeft of snow” that kept him at home. Robert recorded these work trips, as well as special events such as the Lanark Fair and a friend’s burial day, in a ledger. Two pages of that ledger were slipped into the family Bible, which his son brought to Canada.

Robert Hamilton, my three-times great-grandfather, was born around 1754. He married Janet Renwick in 1783 at Lesmahagow parish church. The church record said both were of Abbey Green, the old name for Lesmahagow.

Robert and Janet had five children: Margaret, born 1784; Robert, 1789; Agnes, 1791; Archibald, 1794; and Janet, 1800. Archibald died as an infant, and I do not know what happened to Margaret. Around 1830, Agnes, Robert jr., and Janet all settled in Scarborough, which is today a suburb of Toronto, Ontario.

When Robert and Janet were bringing up their young family, Lesmahagow parish was a good place to live. Just south of Glasgow, it was, and still is, beautiful, with rolling hills, streams and ravines. The Statistical Accounts of Scotland 1791-1799 noted, however, that the soil was not particularly fertile, more suited to pasture for sheep and cows than to growing crops. Everyone grew potatoes and, in his ledger, Robert reported spending several days in mid-October “raising potatoes.” 

A page from Robert Hamilton’s ledger. Photo courtesy Alison M. Wright

The Statistical Accounts described the people as mostly “healthy and robust,” their moral deportment “decent and regular.” The children learned English, Latin, geometry and arithmetic at the local schools. Robert’s ability to read and write was not unusual.

In 1799, the majority of the parish’s 3,000 residents were husbandmen (farmers), and there was a small coal mining industry. There were also numerous tradesmen, including blacksmiths and carpenters, and some 26 tailors and 62 weavers. In the first decade of the 19th century, skilled cottage weavers made wool and linen cloth in their Lanarkshire homes. Then a recession hit and Glasgow factories undermined the cottage weaving industry. Even the climate deteriorated, affecting crops. By 1819, thousands of people in Lanarkshire were living in poverty. Some joined organizations such as the Lesmahagow Emigration Society, and the government assisted them to move abroad. 

Lesmahagow’s old parish cemetery where Robert Hamilton and Janet Renwick were buried.

Janet died in 1821 and Robert survived another ten years, long enough to watch his children leave for Canada. The Hamiltons were buried in the old Lesmahagow parish cemetery. When I visited it in 2012, I searched in vain for their gravestone. All I could find was an empty space in the spot where a diagram suggested it had once stood.

Research Remarks:  I am as fascinated by local and social history as I am by genealogy. Even if I don’t know the details of my ancestors’ experiences, I like to find out about the specific times and places in which they lived. The Statistical Accounts of Scotland provide contemporary descriptions of life in Scotland, based on information supplied by local church ministers. Two series were published, one at the end of the 18thcentury, another in the 1830s. You can browse The Statistical Accounts of Scotland, Account of 1791-99 vol. 7, p. 420: Lesmahago, County of Lanark online for free, http://edina.ac.uk/stat-acc-scot/

Another source of social history is A History of Everyday Life in Scotland, 1600 to 1800, edited by Elizabeth Foyster and Christopher A. Whatley, Edinburgh University Press, 2010. It mentions the high esteem in which skilled craftsmen such as tailors and weavers were held, although this changed over time. By 1800, many people were buying ready-made clothes in shops.

Scottish gravestones can also be quite revealing. Although the Hamiltons’ stone seems to have disappeared, the inscription was recorded in Monumental Inscriptions (pre-1855) in the Upper ward of Lanarkshire, by Sheila A. Scott, published by the Scottish Genealogy Society, 1977. It read, “Robert Hamilton tailor Abbey Green, 18.11.1831, 77. w. Janet Renwick, 9.5.1821, 63. s. Archd. Inf.”

see also: Janice Hamilton, “From Lesmahagow to Scarborough,” Writing Up the Ancestors, https://www.writinguptheancestors.ca/2013/12/from-lesmahagow-to-scarborough.html

Philadelphia and the Mitcheson Family

If St. James the Less Episcopal Church looks like a little piece of England transplanted across the Atlantic, it is supposed to give that impression. This U.S. National Historic Landmark, with gray stone walls and arched red doors, was patterned after an English parish church and was built in 1846 to serve the families who lived in what was then a rural area near Philadelphia. Robert Mitcheson, my great-great-great grandfather, helped found St. James the Less. Perhaps it reminded him of the church near Durham, England, where he was baptized.

Eventually many members of his family were buried in St. James the Less Cemetery. The Mitchesons purchased two plots, each of which includes a tall monument and several other gravestones. One plot was for merchant Robert Mitcheson (1779-1859) and his wife, Mary Frances (Fanny) McGregor (1792-1862) and several of their children and grandchildren. The other was for their son, Reverend Robert McGregor Mitcheson and his family.

This monument is in memory of Robert and Fanny Mitcheson and several family members including grandson Joseph M. Mitcheson, a U.S. naval officer during World War I.

When my husband and I visited Philadelphia last spring, that cemetery visit was one of two priorities. I also wanted to do some research at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP), a four-storey red brick building on downtown Locust Street that houses a vast collection of historical and genealogical documents.

I had been unable to find a record of Robert’s and Fanny’s marriage, or of their children’s baptisms, online. I still haven’t found the marriage, but I did find the baptismal records in the HSP archives. The couple’s seven children were baptized at St. John’s Protestant Episcopal Church, in the Northern Liberties area north of the city. As far as I know, these records have not been digitized.

But the most interesting discovery I made was that Robert and Fanny may have living descendants in the United States. I am descended from their daughter Catharine, who married Stanley Clark Bagg and moved to his home, Montreal. Most of her descendants are Canadians.

I knew that two of the Mitcheson children died as babies and two others lived to adulthood but had no children. Younger son McGregor J. Mitcheson‘s line died out in 1959. That left oldest son Robert McGregor Mitcheson (1818-1877) and his wife, Sarah Johnson. Their son, Dr. Robert S. J. Mitcheson, was married but childless. Of their two daughters, Helen Patience died young, while Fanny Mary married someone named Smith, so it looked like finding her was going to be a challenge.

A search for Mitcheson in the HSP catalogue brought up one hit: records from the Family Bible of Lloyd Jones and his wife, Eliza Loxley. When I opened the document, I had to smile. Fanny Mary Mitcheson (1851-1937) married Uselma Clarke Smith Jr. (1841-1902), and their descendants appear to have spread across the United States, from Long Island to Chicago and California.

The large cross in the rear row is the grave of Rev. Robert M. Mitcheson. Daughter Helen is next to him, while Robert’s wife, Sarah Johnson, son Robert and his wife, Lucie Washington, are in the front row.

Research notes: When I first started researching several years ago, very few Philadelphia records had been digitized. That situation has improved, and I eventually found Frances Mitcheson’s 1862 death certificate at www.FamilySearch.org. That certificate revealed that Fanny was buried in St. James the Less Cemetery. The statement that Robert Mitcheson helped to found the church comes from an article about his son, lawyer McGregor J. Mitcheson, in Historical Catalogue of the St. Andrews Society of Philadelphia, With Biographical Sketches of Deceased Members.

If you had ancestors in the mid-Atlantic United States, you should try to visit the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, but be well prepared. The library is huge and it can be overwhelming if you don’t have a good idea what you are looking for. The society’s website is www.hsp.org.

As for St. James the Less Church, it is now associated with St. James School, a small middle school serving students from the surrounding disadvantaged neighbourhood. When the head of the school showed us around the cemetery, he told us there was a dispute between the congregation and the diocese several years ago. Had we come then, we would have found the church abandoned and the graveyard overgrown. Now the former parish hall has been converted to classrooms and the cemetery is well maintained. The school’s website, www.stjamesphila.org, has more information about this historic building and the political figures, businessmen and Civil War Union Army officers buried there.