Wednesday, February 17, 2016

When did Samuel Orcutt Washburn die?

When I profiled my third great-grandfather, Samuel Orcutt Washburn, as #38 of my 52 Ancestors posts, I noted that while his gravestone pretty clearly says he died on 22 Jan 1850,1 this doesn't jibe with his appearance on the 1850 census in September,2 or with the two youngest children in his widow's household in 1860.3 (The 10-year-old could be his child, born after his death, but the four-year-old? That's a stretch.) I hypothesized that his gravestone might have been erected long after his death, by someone who misremembered when he had died, and that his actual death was sometime between 1855 (a year that appears in many online family trees, although unsourced) and 1859.

Samuel O. Washburn gravestone, Mead Hill Cemetery, Holland, Vermont
That's where I left it... until I found this newspaper article the other day after subscribing to GenealogyBank.4

"Found Dead," The Caledonian (St. Johnsbury, Vermont), 16 Feb 1850, p. 2, col. 4
Well, so much for my "miscarved gravestone" theory. This article appeared in mid-February 1850, stating that Samuel Washburn was found dead in Holland on the morning of January 24. While this implies he died on 23 January (not 22), it's likely the newspaper got the date wrong by a day (the item was published about three weeks after the fact, and who knows who the informant was).

It seems pretty obvious that the man described here is the same one who's buried in Mead Hill Cemetery in Holland, under a stone with a 22 Jan 1850 death date. And since that stone is for Samuel O. Washburn, born 5 May 1799, it's equally clear that this is Samuel Orcutt Washburn, born 5 May 1798 to Jeremiah Washburn in Sutton. (In this respect – the birth date – the stone is incorrect by a year, but the 5 May matches, and the birth date on a gravestone is a lot more likely to be suspect than the death date.)

So now I'm left with two mysteries.

First, why on Earth is this man listed in the census as living, a good eight months after he died from exposure and was buried? The only explanation I can think of is a possible misunderstanding about the mortality schedule, which was new in 1850 (as was the whole idea of naming every individual instead of simply noting numbers). Could the enumerator have asked for something like "the names of everyone in the household, as well as anyone who died in the preceding 12 months," and have misunderstood the current status of the 52-year-old Samuel Washburn named? (For that matter, if the 10-year-old Harmon listed in 1860 was, in fact, a posthumous child, then Mary Washburn would have been so visibly pregnant in September 1850 that it might not even have occurred to the enumerator that her husband was deceased.)

The second is, whose child is the four-year-old Norman listed on the 1860 census? He appears in 1880 listed as a brother-in-law in the household of Charles Griffin (husband of Charlotte Washburn). But if Samuel died in 1850, Norman can't be Charlotte's brother. (Mary Palmateer Washburn did remarry, but not until 1872.) The most logical possibility seems to be that he was actually the child of one of Samuel's older children. Unfortunately, it appears he never married, and I haven't found a death record for him, so as yet I don't have anything that might reveal his parents.

If anyone has any information that might shed some light on either of these mysteries, please contact me. You can leave a comment on this post, or use the email link on my profile page.

  1. Find A Grave ( : accessed 21 Sep 2014), database and digital images, memorial # 22761238 for Samuel Orcutt Washburn (1799-1850), created by "Lar" (8 Nov 2007), with photographs by "Thomas"; citing Mead Hill Cemetery (Holland, Orleans County, Vermont).  
  2. 1850 U.S. Census, Orleans County, Vermont, Holland, page number illegible, dwelling 62, family 62, Saml Washburn household; digital images, ( : accessed 15 Apr 2014). 
  3. 1860 U.S. Census, Orleans County, Vermont, Holland, p. 71, dwelling 547, family 552, "Widow Saml Washburn" household; digital images, ( : accessed 15 Apr 2014).  
  4. "Found Dead," The Caledonian (St. Johnsbury, Vermont), 16 Feb 1850, p. 2, col. 4.