Archive for June, 2014

The vast majority of American immigrants didn’t find the land of their dreams. For most life as an immigrant was hard and sometimes brutal. But at least there was always the prospect that things would get better, at least for their children and grandchildren. One family for which the American Dream did seem to come true was that of Charles Grisdale, a son of Lake District butcher turned farmer John Bird Grisdale. Charles did well for himself and his sons did even better. This is a part of their story.

Temple Sowerby

Temple Sowerby

Charles was born in 1878 in the Westmorland village of Kirkby Thore. He was the illegitimate child of farmer’s daughter Margaret Anne Metcalfe and a butcher called John Bird Grisdale from the nearby village of Temple Sowerby. He was registered under the name Charles Metcalfe – his parents married three years later and two sisters then arrived. Shortly after Charles’s birth his father, John Bird, started to cattle farm, probably with the help of his father-in-law James Metcalfe who had been a farmer himself. The family farm was called Spittal Farm in Kirkby Thore and still remains a dairy farm to this day. In 2005 the Cumberland and Westmorland Herald announced:

The Cumbria Grassland Society held the awards night for its annual silage competition at the Stoneybeck Inn, Penrith, where Andrew Addison, Spittal Farm, Kirkby Thore, learned that he had taken first place.

This is where Charles grew up. I will tell more of the earlier family history towards the end of this article, for now I want to concentrate on Charles and his move to the United States.

s/s Umbria

s/s Umbria

As far as I know it was Charles’s carpenter uncle George who first went to America in the early 1880s (his brother Thomas went separately too). George had settled in Chicago and married Indiana-born Jemima Atchison there in 1886. But George came back on at least one occasion to visit his family in England. On a visit in 1895, leaving his wife in Chicago, he obviously waxed lyrical about the prospects for the family across the Atlantic. One of the family who listened was nephew Charles, because when George returned to the States on the ship Umbria from Liverpool to New York in late March 1895, sixteen year-old Charles went with him, both giving their destination as Chicago.

The 1890s were an extraordinary decade for Chicago, perhaps the only period in the city’s history when its status as a “world city” would be disputed by few. The World’s Columbian Exposition was held in 1893. “Prairie-school” architects like Frank Lloyd Wright began to acquire a measure of fame. Novels like Sister Carrie were inspired by the city’s peculiar mixture of wealth and squalor–and by its astonishing growth. It is often said that Chicago grew more quickly in the second half of the 19th century than any large city in the modern history of the Western world. In the 1890s alone its population increased by 600,000. In 1900, with 1.7 million people, Chicago was, by some measures, (briefly) the fifth or sixth largest city in the world.


Minneapolis in the 1920s

Charles probably spent the next few years in Chicago with his uncle, but soon for reasons I don’t know he moved to Minneapolis in Minnesota and he married there in 1903. His wife was Illinois-born Francis Ruth Orvis. Their first son John Thomas Grisdale – to be known as Jack – was born in Minneapolis in 1904, followed in 1908 by Richard Orvis Grisdale. In 1905 Charles was working as a ‘Cashier’ in a packing company, as he was in 1910. As the years passed and the two boys were growing, Charles progressed to be a ‘bookkeeper’ and then an accountant in ‘Mobile Oils’ in 1920. He then worked for La Pray & Graning before joining the Minneapolis City Comptroller’s office as an accountant, where he stayed till his retirement. The family moved continually and I won’t trace all their moves here. Suffice it to say they lived, as far as I can tell, in nice ‘middle class’ residential areas. Charles registered for the Army draft in late 1918 but probably didn’t see any service; he died in Minneapolis in 1962.

Central High School, Minneapolis

Central High School, Minneapolis

I’ll now leave Charles and pass on to his sons: John Thomas and Richard Orvis. It seems they were both bright boys and were sent to school at the prestigious Central High School in Saint Paul. John graduated in 1922 and was admitted to the University of Minnesota to study architecture. He lived at home while studying but also worked as a ‘draftsman’, probably to help pay for his studies but also no doubt for the experience. After graduating in 1926/7 with a bachelor’s degree in Architecture, John went to take a M. Arch at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, from where he graduated in 1928.

John’s younger brother Richard Orvis seems to have been an early star. The Central High School yearbooks are positively gushing with their praise. His list of honours and achievements goes on and on and when he graduated in 1926 his long entry ends with the words: ‘He is a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again.’ Crikey, that’s something of a burden to live up to! He studied first at the University of Minnesota then won a scholarship to go to Harvard where he studied Chemistry ‘with strong quantum theory interests’ as he later said. On graduation in 1930, Richard was awarded a Rhodes scholarship to undertake further study at the University of Oxford. I guess he did.

The first transistor from Bell LabsLater Richard worked at Bell Labs on the development of the first electrical transistors and later at General Electric as an engineer. There is much more to tell about Richard, but for the moment I will just finish by saying that he married Margaret Griswold in New York in 1932 and they had a son called Michael L Grisdale in 1940. Michael has only recently died. During his career Richard travelled a lot. When he visited London he stayed in the salubrious Savoy Hotel and the equally up-market RAC Club. He died in 1982 in Short Hills, New Jersey.

Let us return to John Thomas Grisdale, the architect. Having finished his studies at the University of Pennsylvania in 1928, John spent the next ten years working at his trade with the architectural firm of Mellor and Meigs in Philadelphia and then with Paul P. Cret until 1943.

But John obviously travelled too, because years later one of his colleagues from the Central High School in Minneapolis wrote an article in which he tells that while on a ‘sojourn’ in the ‘wilds of India’ in 1932 he meet a group of lion hunters which including John Grisdale.

In 1945 John entered into partnership with his University of Pennsylvania classmate J. Roy Carroll under the name Carroll & Grisdale. They were joined in 1946 by Pennsylvania alumnus W. L. van Alen  and the firm of Carroll, Grisdale and Van Alen was born; it continued to operate successfully until 1973.

lib 5

Carroll, Grisdale & Van Alen’s Library Company of Philadelphia building, 1965

Now it wasn’t John’s fault that when he studied architecture and started to practice at a time when the so-called ‘International style’ was in vogue. Taking its inspiration from European architects such as Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier, in the United States the style was popularized by Mies van der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright and Philip Johnston.

The stark, unornamented appearance of the International style met with contemporaneous criticism and is still criticized today by many. Especially in larger and more public buildings, the style is commonly subject to disparagement as ugly, inhuman, sterile, and elitist. Such criticism gained momentum in the latter half of the 20th Century, from academics such as Hugo Kükelhaus to best-selling American author Tom Wolfe’s From Bauhaus to Our House, and contributed to the rise of such counter-movements as postmodernism.

The International style has left us many blots on the landscape, not just in the United States but everywhere in the world. Below I show just four examples of Carroll, Grisdale & Van Alen’s work; you can judge the aesthetics and functionality of these buildings for yourself. The firm’s full archive is kept by the University of Pennsylvania.

Youth Study Center, Philadelphia, 1953

youth 3

State Office Building, Philadelphia

state office

  Doylestown Court House, 1962

court house 1

Franklin Building, University of Pennsylvania

frank 3

In my view somewhat better than these designs was John T. Grisdale’s own house in Delaware, which he designed himself.

John Grisdale's house in Delaware, 1949

John Grisdale’s house in Delaware, 1949

John married Catherine Hanford and they had one son called Hanford Gillespie Grisdale in 1943. John Thomas ‘Jack’ Grisdale died in Radnor, Wayne County, Delaware in 1985 aged eighty and is buried in St. Martin’s Episcopal Church.

For those of you interested in the earlier history of this Grisdale family perhaps a few words are in order. As I mentioned, Charles Grisdale’s grandfather George was born in Penrith, Cumberland in 1826, the son of poor agricultural labourer Thomas Grisdale and his first wife Elizabeth Charters. By the time he was fourteen George had been sent to work in a lead mine, though which Cumberland lead mine this was I have yet to ascertain. George’s parents died at a quite young age and George, having surreptitiously married Margaret Warwick at Greta Green in 1846, somehow ended up in the Cumbrian village of Temple Sowerby working as a tanner.  As we have seen the couple’s fourth child, John Bird Grisdale, became a butcher in Temple Sowerby before becoming a dairy farmer in Kirkby Thore. It was all about cows – tanner, butcher and dairy farmer.

If you are interested in Thomas’s own route back to Matterdale I invite you to contact me.

Lead Miners

Lead Miners

By way of a genealogical aside, Thomas Grisdale’s first wife, Elizabeth Charters, whom he married in Penrith in 1821, was the younger sister of Mary Charters who married my own 3rd great grandfather, the Penrith ‘Dancing Master’ William Grisdale, in 1815 (see here).

So here we have a story of the progress of one Grisdale family from child labour in a Cumberland lead mine to a Rhodes scholarship and architectural success in just three generations!

Finally a word on how paths may cross. In Minneapolis in the early decades of the twentieth century (and later too), Charles and his family were not by any means the only Grisdales in the city; there were quite a few more. Of course they were all related and all found their roots in Matterdale, but had they ever met did they know of their relationship? Let me mention just one such relative: Charles Gideon Grisdale. This Charles Gideon was the great grandson of Wilfred Grisdale who had arrived in Canada as early as 1816/7 (see here) and who, just by way of example, was the Chief Engineer at the Liquid Carbolic Company in Minneapolis around 1920. This Wilfred Grisdale was the brother of my own 3rd great grandfather, the Penrith Dancing Master William Grisdale, who, as already mentioned, had married Mary Charters who was the sister of Elizabeth Charters who married Thomas Grisdale, the great grandfather of immigrant Charles Grisdale and 2nd great grandfather of architect John Thomas and chemical engineer Richard Orvis. I hope you’re keeping up? It’s a small world.

John Bird Grisdale was a butcher before turning to farming

John Bird Grisdale was a butcher before turning to farming


In the eighteenth century Old Testament names became popular in England. One family in which this was true was that of farmer Solomon Grisdale and his wife Mary Grisdale (they were ‘cousins’). After their marriage in Matterdale Church in 1763 they had twelve children, including sons with the Biblical names Joseph, Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Benjamin. I have written much about Levi (see here and here), something of daughter Jane (see here) and a little about Solomon’s grandson Solomon who took the stage-name Walter and became a famous actor (see here). I’d now like to turn our attention to son Simeon and his son and grandson, both called Simeon too. It is a story of bankruptcy, bigamy and battles. In order not to make the story excessively long I will split it into three parts. This first part concerns the little we know about Solomon’s son Simeon, who I will call Simeon 1 when necessary to avoid confusion.

Solomon Grisdale was born in Matterdale in 1739, the son of farmer Jonathan Grisdale and Mary Jackson, and the grandson of Joseph Grisdale and Agnes Dockray (my own 5th great grandparents). Like his father and grandfather Solomon was a farmer. Where exactly in Matterdale he first farmed isn’t known, but after his marriage in 1763 (at the latest by 1776) the family were farming at ‘Hill’. Now this is a farm lying between Great Mell Fell and Little Mell Fell. It lies geographically in Matterdale but is administratively in the parish of Watermillock. The family probably moved for a short time to nearby Patterdale, because it was here in 1780 that son Simeon was born and baptized. Shortly thereafter they moved to Greystoke parish where the rest of the children were born, including the later to be famous Levi in 1783.


Patterdale where Simeon was born

But the family was too big to be supported from a small Cumberland farm and thus most of Solomon and Mary’s children had to move away and find their own way in life. Levi went to London and joined the army; Thomas went to Kent (after a time in the army I think); sister Jane to Arundel in Sussex; while Joseph went to London.

All Saints Church in Houghton

All Saints Church in Houghton

Sometime around the turn of the nineteenth century Simeon somehow found his way to bucolic Hampshire. He married local girl Ruth Russell in the church of All Saints in the Hampshire village of Houghton in July 1805. It’s clear that Ruth was already pregnant when she married Simeon because their son, also christened Simeon, was born in Houghton in November of the same year, to be followed three years later by a daughter Mary, also born in Houghton.

Nothing more is heard of the family for some time. However we do know what Simeon did: he became a ‘Baker and Chandler Shopkeeper’ in the village. The Victoria County History described the village thus in 1908:

The parish of Houghton, lying south-west of Stock-bridge and north-west of King’s Somborne, is detached from the other parishes of Buddlesgate Hundred. It comprises 33 acres of land covered by water and 2,639 acres of land, which rises generally from south-east to north-west from the low-lying country near the River Test, which flows along the east of the parish to the downland, which stretches away north to Houghton Down, behind which rises Danebury Hill in Nether Wallop parish…

The main village street, curving west for a few yards at the north end of the village, turns sharply north and runs uphill past Houghton Lodge, the residence of Colonel E. St. John Daubney, which lies back from the road on the east, on to North Houghton.

We can perhaps visualize Simeon and Ruth baking bread in the early hours of each day and working in their shop while the two children were at school or playing in the nearby fields.

In Fleet Prison

In Fleet Prison

And so life went on. But probably by the early 1820s, when his children were reaching adulthood, Simeon’s business in Houghton was not going well and it was either closed or sold. We can imply from later events that Simeon had debts although he wasn’t declared bankrupt. Around this time, either with or without his family, Simeon moved to ‘London’ or better said to the still rural area of Holloway/Hornsey/Crouch End in the parish of Islington. He became an ‘Ostler’, which is someone who looks after horses in an inn, usually a coaching-inn. He lived in Duval’s Lane near Crouch End, to which I will return. But it seems that Simeon couldn’t pay off his creditors and was thrown into debtor’s prison – most probably into the notorious Fleet Prison.

How long Simeon was in prison I don’t know, but in 1825 he petitioned the ‘Court for the Relief of Insolvent Debtors and Office of the Commissioners of Bankrupts and successors’ to be released. This Court had been established by the Insolvent Debtors (England) Act in 1813, during the reign of King George III. ‘It was enacted in response to the demands on the prison system imposed by the numbers of those being incarcerated for debt, and some concern for their plight. The Act created a new Court for the Relief of Insolvent Debtors that remained in existence until 1861, under the jurisdiction of a newly appointed Commissioner. Those imprisoned for debt could apply to the court to be released – unless they were in trade or guilty of fraudulent or other dishonest behaviour – by reaching an agreement with their creditors that ensured a fair distribution of their present and future assets.’

Simeon’s petition was to be heard on 11 April 1825 at ‘Nine o’clock of the Forenoon’ at the Court which resided in Portugal Street in Lincoln’s-Inn-Fields. Simeon was said to be ‘formally of Houghton, Hampshire. Baker and Chandler Shopkeeper, and later of Holloway, Middlesex. Ostler’.

A wonderful description of this Court which would decide Simeon’s fate was written by Charles Dickens in Pickwick Papers in 1837. I think it worth quoting in full:

In a lofty room, ill-lighted and worse ventilated, situated in Portugal Street, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, there sit nearly the whole year round, one, two, three, or four gentlemen in wigs, as the case may be, with little writing-desks before them, constructed after the fashion of those used by the judges of the land, barring the French polish. There is a box of barristers on their right hand; there is an enclosure of insolvent debtors on their left; and there is an inclined plane of most especially dirty faces in their front. These gentlemen are the Commissioners of the Insolvent Court, and the place in which they sit, is the Insolvent Court itself.

It is, and has been, time out of mind, the remarkable fate of this court to be, somehow or other, held and understood, by the general consent of all the destitute shabby-genteel people in London, as their common resort, and place of daily refuge. It is always full. The steams of beer and spirits perpetually ascend to the ceiling, and, being condensed by the heat, roll down the walls like rain; there are more old suits of clothes in it at one time, than will be offered for sale in all Houndsditch in a twelvemonth; more unwashed skins and grizzly beards than all the pumps and shaving-shops between Tyburn and Whitechapel could render decent, between sunrise and sunset.

Lincoln's Inn Fields in the 1800s

Lincoln’s Inn Fields in the 1800s

It must not be supposed that any of these people have the least shadow of business in, or the remotest connection with, the place they so indefatigably attend. If they had, it would be no matter of surprise, and the singularity of the thing would cease. Some of them sleep during the greater part of the sitting; others carry small portable dinners wrapped in pocket-handkerchiefs or  sticking out of their worn-out pockets, and munch and listen with equal relish; but no one among them was ever known to have the slightest personal interest in any case that was ever brought forward. Whatever they do, there they sit from the first moment to the last. When it is heavy, rainy weather, they all come in, wet through; and at such times the vapours of the court are like those of a fungus-pit.

A casual visitor might suppose this place to be a temple dedicated to the Genius of Seediness. There is not a messenger or process-server attached to it, who wears a coat that was made for him; not a tolerably fresh, or wholesome-looking man in the whole establishment, except a little white-headed apple-faced tipstaff, and even he, like an ill-conditioned cherry preserved in brandy, seems to have artificially dried and withered up into a state of preservation to which he can lay no natural claim. The very barristers’ wigs are ill-powdered, and their curls lack crispness.

pickwickBut the attorneys, who sit at a large bare table below the commissioners, are, after all, the greatest curiosities. The professional establishment of the more opulent of these gentlemen, consists of a blue bag and a boy; generally a youth of the Jewish persuasion. They have no fixed offices, their legal business being transacted in the parlours of public-houses, or the yards of prisons, whither they repair in crowds, and canvass for customers after the manner of omnibus cads. They are of a greasy and mildewed appearance; and if they can be said to have any vices at all, perhaps drinking and cheating are the most conspicuous among them. Their residences are usually on the outskirts of ‘the Rules,’ chiefly lying within a circle of one mile from the obelisk in St. George’s Fields. Their looks are not prepossessing, and their manners are peculiar.

Mr. Solomon Pell, one of this learned body, was a fat, flabby, pale man, in a surtout which looked green one minute, and brown the next, with a velvet collar of the same chameleon tints. His forehead was narrow, his face wide, his head large, and his nose all on one side, as if Nature, indignant with the propensities she observed in him in his birth, had given it an angry tweak which it had never recovered. Being short-necked and asthmatic, however, he respired principally through this feature; so, perhaps, what it wanted in ornament, it made up in usefulness.

‘I’m sure to bring him through it,’ said Mr. Pell.

‘Are you, though?’ replied the person to whom the assurance was pledged.

‘Certain sure,’ replied Pell; ‘but if he’d gone to any irregular practitioner, mind you, I wouldn’t have answered for the consequences.’

‘Ah!’ said the other, with open mouth.

‘No, that I wouldn’t,’ said Mr. Pell; and he pursed up his lips, frowned, and shook his head mysteriously.

Charles Dickens, Pickwick Papers, 1837

We can imply that Simeon was released from prison by the court on April 11 but he no doubt still had debts to pay. It’s possible that Simeon had become so weak from his time in debtors’ prison or he may have caught an illness there, whatever the case only a couple of weeks after his release Simeon died and was buried in Islington on 7 June 1825, aged just forty-four. At the time of his death Simeon was said to reside at Duval’s Lane in Islington. Now here I could leave the story and you can if you wish, but I think it interesting to explore Duval’s Road a bit more and suggest where exactly Simeon had worked as an Ostler before being thrown into prison for debt.

Duval’s Lane (which is now Hornsey Road) was named after a French-born ‘gentleman highwayman’ called Claude Du Val (1643-1670). ‘In a map of the suburbs of London in 1823, “Duval’s Lane” is shown as running from Lower Holloway towards Crouch End, with scarcely a house on either side. A small and crooked road, marked Hem Lane, with “Duval’s House” at the corner, leads also through fields towards “Hornsey Wood House,” and so into the Green Lanes—all being open country. The now populous district of Crouch End appears here as a small group of private residences. Between the “Wood House” and Crouch End is Stroud Green, around which are five or six rustic cottages. On the other side of the “Wood House” is the “Sluice House,” where privileged persons and customers of “mine host” went to fish in the New River and to sup upon eels, for which that place was famous, as stated above. Upper Holloway itself figures in this map as a very small collection of houses belonging apparently to private residents.’

Claude Duvall was born in Domfront, Orne, Normandy in 1643 to a noble family stripped of title and land. His origin and parentage are in dispute. He did however have a brother Daniel Du Val. At the age of 14 he was sent to Paris where he worked as a domestic servant. He later became a stable boy for a group of English royalists and moved to England in the time of the English Restoration as a footman of the Duke of Richmond (possibly a relation) and rented a house in Wokingham.

The legend goes that before long Du Val became a successful highwayman who robbed the passing stagecoaches in the roads to London, especially Holloway between Highgate and Islington. However, unlike most other brigands, he distinguished himself with rather gentlemanly behaviour and fashionable clothes. However, there is no valid historical source for this assertion. He reputedly never used violence. One of his victims was Squire Roper, Master of the Royal Buckhounds, whom he relieved of 50 guineas and tied to a tree. There are many tales about Du Val. One particularly famous one — placed in more than one location and later published by William Pope — claims that he took only a part of his potential loot from a gentleman when his wife agreed to dance the “courante” with him in the wayside, a scene immortalised by William Powell Frith in his 1860 painting Claude Du Val.

Frith's painting of Duval

Frith’s painting of Duval

If his intention was to deter pursuit by his non-threatening behaviour, he did not totally succeed. After the authorities promised a large reward, he fled to France for some time but returned a few months later. Shortly afterwards, he is said to have been arrested in the Hole-in-the-Wall tavern in London’s Chandos Street, Covent Garden. However, there is no record of this in valid historical sources. His ‘life’, as described here, is a typical example of entertaining stories invented for various reasons over centuries transmuting into so-called historical fact. (The ‘story’ of Dick Turpin is another example where the accepted story is very different from the actual historical record.)

On 17 January 1670, judge Sir William Morton found him guilty of six robberies (others remained unproven) and sentenced him to death. Despite many attempts to intercede, the king did not pardon him and he was executed on 21 January at Tyburn. When his body was cut down and exhibited in Tangier Tavern… it drew a large crowd. It is traditionally thought Du Val was buried under the centre aisle of the church of St Paul’s, Covent Garden; the parish register notes the burial of a “Peter Du Val” in January 1670.

A memorial at the church reads:

Here lies DuVall: Reder, if male thou art,

Look to thy purse; if female, to thy heart.

Much havoc has he made of both; for all

Men he made to stand, and women he made to fall

The second Conqueror of the Norman race,

Knights to his arm did yield, and ladies to his face.

Old Tyburn’s glory; England’s illustrious Thief,

Du Vall, the ladies’ joy; Du Vall, the ladies’ grief.

An Ostler

An Ostler

Good stuff, but returning to Simeon, can we be a little more precise as to where he might have worked as an Ostler? I think we can. Ostlers, as I have said, looked after the horses in inns, usually in coaching-inns. In 1817 in Picturesque rides and walks,: With excursions by water, thirty miles round the British metropolis; illustrated in a series of engravings, coloured after … country within the compass of that circle ‘, J Hassell wrote:

The Hornsey coaches, of course, pass through Crouch End, where there is a respectable house of accommodation, the King’s Arms. From thence you take the first turning to the left that leads up Duval’s Lane, a pleasant and well-inhabited spot, to the metropolis, by the high road through Islington.

It is quite possible (but by no means certain) that Simeon Grisdale was an Ostler at the King’s Arms in Crouch End. The inn’s successor (now called the King’s Head) still exists and was in fact my ‘local’ for many years when I lived just off ‘’Duval’s Lane’!

Finally, Holloway and Hornsey were frequented by another well-known highwayman: Dick Turpin. Walter Thornby wrote in Old and New London in the 1870s:

Hornsey Road, which in Camden’s time was a “sloughy lane” to Whetstone, by way of Crouch End, seventy years ago [in 1802] had only three houses, and no side paths, and was impassable for carriages.

It was formerly called Devil’s, or Du Val’s, Lane, and further back still Tollington Lane. There formerly stood on the east side of this road, near the junction with the Seven Sisters’ Road, an old wooden moated house, called “The Devil’s House,” but really the site of old Tollington House.

Dick Turpin jumping Hornsey Gate

Dick Turpin jumping Hornsey Gate

Tradition fixed this lonely place as the retreat of Duval, the famous French highwayman in the reign of Charles II. After he was hung in 1669, he lay in state at a low tavern in St. Giles’s, and was buried in the middle aisle of St. Paul’s, Covent Garden, by torchlight.

The tradition is evidently erroneous, as the Devil’s House in Devil’s Lane is mentioned in a survey of Highbury taken in 1611 (James I.) Duval may, however, have affected the neighbourhood, as near a great northern road.

The moat used to be crossed by a bridge, and the house in 1767 was a public-house, where Londoners went to fish, and enjoy hot loaves, and milk fresh from the cow. In 1737, after Turpin had shot one of his pursuers near a cave which he haunted in Epping Forest, he seems to have taken to stopping coaches and chaises at Holloway, and in the back lanes round Islington.

A gentleman telling him audaciously he had reigned long, Dick replied gaily, “Tis, no matter for that, I’m not afraid of being taken by you; so don’t stand hesitating, but stump up the cole.” Nevertheless, the gallows came at last to Dick.

And here I will leave the story of the first Simeon Grisdale. Whether his family had come with him to London or not his children were soon back in Hampshire. I will take up their story in part 2.

Holloway/Hornsey Area in 1819

Holloway/Hornsey Area in 1819



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Trying to uncover all our ancestral lines is a labour of love taking many years, even decades, particularly if you really wish to gain a full understanding of your ancestors’ lives and share them with others having the same family interests. It is this fuller understanding of the social and economic history that our family lived through that enthralls Stephen Lewis and has helped him to make some touching discoveries…

For some people filling in the pieces of our family tree jigsaw-puzzle is enough in itself. Yet most of us soon start to become enthralled by the social and economic history of our family, even if we previously had no interest in ‘history’ as we might have been taught it at school. What was life like for one of our ancestors, or his/her family, at a particular time and in a particular place? Why did one of our ancestors emigrate? Why did so many children die young? We literally want to put some flesh on our forebears. We want in some small way to bring some of them back to life, perhaps for the first time in centuries.

How can we do this? And, importantly, how can we communicate and share what we discover? What I‘d like to do is simply offer a few suggestions derived from my own efforts in researching and communicating the social history of parts of my own family. Some of the results can be found on my family history blog

First we need to make choices, but don’t agonise too much about where to start. If you’re most fascinated by those of your ancestors bearing your own name then start there. On the other hand if you’re more interested in certain places where some of your ancestors lived then research that. Or perhaps start with just one person that you’d most like to bring back to life.

How much flesh we can put on the lives of particular ancestors or families will of course vary. If they were rich or famous, if they emigrated, joined the church or accomplished heroic deeds then the records of their lives will likely be more extensive. However, even if some or most of your ancestors left little trace of their lives, besides a few events and dates, you can still tell an interesting story.

Our ancestors’ landscape

A good starting point is to research geography. Physically what was the environment in which your ancestors lived? Was it a remote mountain community where people tended sheep? Was it a maritime port heaving with merchants, sailors and fishermen? Or perhaps it was an industrial town full of ‘dark satanic mills’? Try to find out what the physical environment was and how it changed and evolved, and why. Try to be precise. Where exactly was Dowthwaite Head Farm in Cumberland? What did it look like? What surrounded it? What was a particular Lancashire cotton mill really like? How had the surrounding environment changed? Understanding the places goes a long way to understanding the lives of our ancestors.

 Making a living

Geography links to my second suggestion. Research what your ancestors did to make a living. The records might reveal that someone was a ‘waller’, a ‘chalker’ or a ‘cotton bleacher’. What did these occupations really involve day to day – in terms of travel, health, income and the precariousness of existence? Mariners by definition travelled far and wide, as did wallers (though more locally), whereas ‘yeoman’ farmers usually stayed put. You might have no personal records of your ‘waller’ ancestor but you can still start to reconstruct their life from what is known of the lives of others with the same job.

Class & cash

The next thing to consider is the important fact of class. All societies at all times have been stratified. The rich and powerful try to hold on to their privileges and extend them wherever they can. The poor try to survive. The ‘middling-sort’ tries to move up or arrest a decline of their family. A family’s class and economic position and its dealings with other classes in the vicinity can tell us much about their likely lives, their hopes and their decisions. Were your ancestors forced to quit the land because of the centuries-long rapacious land enclosures in England, or the brutal highland clearances in Scotland? Who exactly was doing the enclosing or clearing and why? What were the consequences for your ancestors? Once you understand this you can often make sense of why, to use an example from my own family, a family moved from rural Cumberland to the Bolton cotton mills, emigrated to Canada or joined the military. People tend to make such big moves only when they have to. What pushed them to it?

 Making your research relevant

All of these things: geography, work, class and economics play out at the local level. But it’s also interesting to try to place these events in a wider national or international context. One of my own family members became an Army officer and died in Minorca in 1801. What in heaven’s name was the British Army doing in Minorca? My research turned up a very interesting story covering the time of Britain’s four-year ownership of the island. Another family member started life as a cotton bleacher in Bolton in Lancashire, became a missionary in India and ended up a bishop in the Canadian prairies. Researching this opened up the fascinating history not only of Britain and its empire but also the history of the Canadian West.

Such research will take you down paths you might otherwise never have ventured. The social, political and economic histories you discover will start to have a real relevance because they involved and affected specific people you know and care about. You don’t need vast libraries and certainly not historical training to do any of this; you can find a great deal of what you need on the internet. When I started to research and write stories about my own family, not only did it open up vast areas of social and political history I had never thought about before, but it also elicited many unexpected, illuminating and often touching responses from all over the world. I am sure it will do the same for you.



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In an earlier article (see here) I wrote about Levi Grisdale and how he had captured Napoleon’s favourite General,  Lefebvre, at the Battle of Benavente (or Benevente) in Spain on 29 December 1808 during the Peninsular Wars, and how he had gone on to other great things. But I wrote as well: ‘Numerous individual stories survive from these wars, written by participants from all sides: French, British, German and Spanish. Yet a great number of these come from the ‘officer classes’. Levi was not an officer and, as far as is known, he never wrote his own story.’ This is true but it turns out that Levi was interviewed about what happened by ‘An Officer of the Staff’ who had been in Spain with Levi in the army of General Moore. This was published in early 1809 (i.e. immediately after the British army had returned to England from Corunna) in a book wonderfully titled ‘Operations of the British Army in Spain: Involving Broad Hints to the Commissariat, and Board of Transports : with Anecdotes Illustrative of the Spanish Character‘. One of these stories was Levi’s. The internal evidence suggests that Levi was interviewed  back in England just weeks after the events, when ‘Private Grisdale’ had been promoted to Corporal (he would end up a Sergeant Major). It is the nearest thing we will get to Levi’s own words and version of  what happened at Benavente and how he had captured General Lefebvre:

CAPTURE OF GENERAL LEFEBVRE, By — — Grisdale, a Private in the 10th Dragoons.

General Lefebvre is Captured at Benaventa. Painting by Dennis Dighton. Royal Collection, Windsor

General Lefebvre is Captured at Benaventa. Painting by Dennis Dighton. Royal Collection, Windsor

About one hundred and fifty of the 10th dragoons, and the dragoons of the 7th,[1] were suddenly opposed to about twelve hundred of the enemy’s cavalry, chiefly composed of Imperial Guards, well mounted, and commanded by Lefebvre. The town of Benevente was at a short distance in the rear. As the British had the sagacity, in this instance, to destroy the bridge, the enemy were forced to wade through the river, which they did, with great alacrity, for the purpose of compelling the British detachment to surrender. They advanced in one- solid and compact line against the British force, to salute them with a general volley from their carbines. The British, who were led on by Major Quintain of the 10th, resolutely awaited their approach, and received their fire, which; happily, did but- little execution. The volley was no sooner given, than an order was issued for the British to charge, which they did with that order and impetuosity which insured success. They cut their way completely through the enemy’s line, and then shewed a broad front to him in the opposite direction. The French, in the interim, having faced about, closed their ranks, and put themselves again in good order for the contest. A second charge was then made by the British, which was more successful than the former, for the French, were thrown into confusion, and the carnage which followed was terrible. It was at this time that Grisdale beheld the French Commander, accompanied by two trumpeters, hurrying from the field of action, and followed by two privates of the 7th, in hot pursuit. The French Commander’s horse outstripped those of the trumpeters, as did Grisdale’s those of the 7th; so that, as the General lost the companions of his flight, Grisdale had the good fortune to pursue him single-handed.

General Charles Lefebvre-Desnouettes

General Charles Lefebvre-Desnouettes

The General fled along the serpentine margin of the river, and thereby lost much ground, of which Grisdale took advantage, and by cutting across from angle to angle, he at length, after a rapid chase of two miles, succeeded in getting in his front. The General now, from necessity, checked his horse; but betraying symptoms of resistance, Grisdale instantly levelled, and discharged his carbine, the ball of which slightly wounded his adversary on the cheek. Thus unsuccessful in his aim, Grisdale was preparing to defend himself with his sword, (his pistols having been previously discharged) when, to his surprise, he beheld Lefebvre throw his sword away, as a token of surrender. This gave Grisdale time to re-load his carbine, which having done, he advanced to the General, took the pistols from his holsters, the sash from about his waist, and having dismounted, snatched up the cast away sword; then re-seating himself in the saddle, he turned the rein of the General’s bridle over the horse’s head, and so conducted him to the British army: the main body of which, at that time, was coming up. Grisdale had too much honest pride to demand the General’s watch and money, but a private of the 7th, who was less scrupulous and exalted in his ideas, did the General that favor before he reached the British lines. Grisdale gave the sash, sword, and pistols, to his Colonel, (Leigh) to have them transmitted to his beloved Commander, the Prince of Wales.

Grisdale has recently been raised to the rank of corporal, as the first step only of more considerable promotion. He is an exceedingly well made, well looking man: his countenance is ruddy and expressive, and strongly indicates that he possesses that intrepid spirit which should, at all times, distinguish the Briton and the soldier. He is a native of Gracestock (sic), in Cumberland; his age is twenty-four. He has a mother living, to whom he is most affectionately attached; and where filial piety exists, we seldom look for human courage in vain.


Notwithstanding this coup d’ éclat, it seemed destined that our retreat should be attended with every possible disadvantage that Nature could throw in our way. The weather was so inclement, that the oldest Galician living, does not remember so severe a season. Wind, rain, and even hail, pelted around us; and to add to our distresses, the greater part of the officers had lost their cloaks, great coats, and linen, as the muleteers to whose care they were confided, bad all scampered to the mountains on the approach of the French cavalry, and left 200 of their mules to be quietly plundered by the enemy! Now, whether this mishap arise from the suggestion of fear or hatred, or knavery, is yet undetermined. Some of our dragoons endeavoured to drive those independent animals forward, but even the stroke of the sabre had no effect, when their masters had forsaken them. Unhappily, they were not linguists, like Balaam’s appendage, and could not, or would not, comprehend the British word of command. Between Benevente and Astorga, and Villa Franca, and Lugo, the retreating army were literally compelled to cut a passage through the snow!


The British Retreat to Corunna 1808-1809

The British Retreat to Corunna 1808-1809

[1] Of the King’s German Legion.

America is often said to be a great cultural melting-pot, and so it is. Except for the Native Americans everyone is descended from immigrants, whether early or more recent. Here I’d like to tell the story of the meeting of two different cultures: those of the Portuguese Azores and of Lancashire in England. It’s the story of Arlena Grisdale and Manuel da Silveira and their families in Oregon.

The Azores

The Azores

The Azores is an archipelago composed of nine volcanic islands situated in the North Atlantic Ocean. It is located about 850 miles west of Portugal. ‘The islands were known in the fourteenth century and parts of them can be seen, for example, in the Atlas Catalan. In 1427, one of the captains sailing for Henry the Navigator, possibly Gonçalo Velho, rediscovered the Azores… ‘

‘In “A History of the Azores” by Thomas Ashe written in 1813 the author identified a Fleming, Joshua Van der Berg of Bruges, who made land in the archipelago during a storm on his way to Lisbon. Ashe stated that the Portuguese explored the area and claimed it for Portugal shortly after. Other stories note the discovery of the first islands (São Miguel Island, Santa Maria Island and Terceira Island) were made by sailors in the service of Henry the Navigator, although there are few written documents to support the claims.’

I start with this mention of Flemings because the subject of this story is a certain Manuel Caetano da Silveira, whose family had been settled on the island of São Jorge (St George) from the earliest times. In fact the family name da Silveira is the Portuguese rendition of the name of a ‘noble Flemish native’ called Wilhelm Van der Haegen, who was the first to settle the island in a major way. Haag means forest in Flemish and thus William became known as Guilherme da Silveira to the islanders. Azorean families with the surname Silveira generally descend from the Fleming Willem van der Haegen. ‘By 1490, there were 2,000 Flemings living in the islands of Terceira, Pico, Faial, São Jorge and Flores. Because there was such a large Flemish settlement, the Azores became known as the Flemish Islands or the Isles of Flanders.’

Prince Henry the Navigator

Prince Henry the Navigator

I reproduce much of the Wikipedia entry for Wilhelm van der Haegen below. It is rather long and those who are not interested in deep history can skip it.

As part of his inheritance, King Edward of Portugal bequeathed the islands of the Azores to his brother, the Infante D. Henriques (Henry the Navigator), in 1433. This was subsequently left to Henry’s nephew and adopted son, Infante D. Fernando, in addition to Henry’s title as Grand Master of the Order of Christ. A grant was made by the Infante to his aunt, D. Isabella of Portugal (Edward and Henry’s sister), the Duchess of Burgundy, in the Low Countries. For many of the Flems (sic) who were recuperating from the Hundred Years’ War, this grant offered an opportunity of alleviating their suffering.

Van der Haegen, a wealthy entrepreneur, was invited by Josse van Huerter (for four-years Captain-General of the island of Faial) to settle the island with him, in an archipelago that was becoming known as a New Flanders or the Flemish Islands. Consequently, in 1470, with his wife Margarida da Zambuja and at his own expense, he offloaded two ships carrying his extended family, slaves and professionals of various services, to begin what was characterised as a “second-wave” of immigration to the island (the first having been pioneered by Van Huerter in the 1460s).

Van der Haegen, by his virtues and distinguished personality, became popular on the island. But, sensing a level of bad faith on the part of Huerter and a growing rivalry, he abandoned his holdings on Faial, to settle in Quatro Ribeiras, on the island of Terceira. He begins to cultivate wheat and gather woad plants for export (specifically Isatis tinctoria which was also produced in the Picardy and Normandy Regions of France until that time). These plants, along with other species, were essential in the production of many of the dyes popular with mercantile classes. Most islands in the archipelago were populated, and the plants commercialized by the landed gentry for their exportable nature; early settlements were founded on the basis of agricultural and dye-based exports, such as woad. Van der Haegen’s colonies were no exception.

Ruins of the Solar dos Tiagos in Topo

Ruins of the Solar dos Tiagos in Topo

On a trip to Lisbon he encounters D. Maria de Vilhena (widow of D. Fernão Teles de Meneses, the Donatary of the islands of Flores and Corvo, then administratively one fiefdom) and his son Rui Teles. After some negotiation, D. Maria would cede the rights to the exploration of the islands to Van der Haegen, in exchange for monthly payments.

Around 1478, Willem van der Haegen settles in Ribeira da Cruz, where he built homes, developed agriculture (primarily wheat), collected more woad species for export, and explored for tin, silver or other minerals (under the assumption that the islands were part of the mythic Ilhas Cassterides, the islands of silver and tin). Owing to the island’s isolation and difficulties in communication his crops became difficult to export. After several years, he decides to leave the island and return to Terceira.

But, his return was brief; after seven years he leaves Quatro Ribeiras and settles in the area of Topo, São Jorge Island, effectively establishing the community with other Flemish citizens. He died in 1500, and was buried in the chapel-annex of the Solar dos Tiagos, in the villa of Topo, today in ruins.

So Wilhelm had eventually settled and died in Topo on São Jorge Island, which is precisely where his descendants mostly lived for the next four hundred years. The American immigrant Manuel Caetano da Silveira was born in 1879. His parents were Topo-born farmer Martinho Caetano da Silveira and his Topo-born wife Ana Vitorina.

Island of St George

Island of St George

The local Azorean records report:[1]

Matris de Nossa Senhora do Rosario in Topo

Matris de Nossa Senhora do Rosario in Topo

Aos treze dias do mez de Abril do anno de mil oitocentos setenta e nove, nesta egreja parochial Matris de Nossa Senhora do Rosario, da Villa do Topo, concelho da Calheta, Ilha de São Jorge, diocese de Angra, o reverendo beneficiado Francisco Pimentel de Noronha, baptisou solemnemente um individuo do sexo masculino, a quem deo o nome de Manoel, que nasceo nesta freguesia, às duas horas da manhã do dia oito do mez corrente, filho legitimo de Marthino Caethano da Silveira, lavrador, e Anna Victorina, e que se ocupa em arangos de sua caza, naturaes, recebidos e moradores no lugar da  Lomba de São Pedro, desta freguesia, neto paterno de Caethano Silveira Leonardes e Francisca Victorina da Silveira e materno de João António Gonçalves e Maria Benedicta. Padrinho dito Caethano Silveira Leonardes, lavrador, cazado, que sei serem os próprios. E para constar lavrei em duplicado este assento, que dipois de lido e conferido, perante o padrinho, só assigno por elle não saber escrever. Era ut supra.

O vigário Francisco Monteiro de Amorim


Manuel, legitimate son of Martinho Caetano da Silveira, farmer, and Ana Vitorina, housewife, both native of Topo, where they married and live in Lomba de São Pedro, paternal grandson of Caetano Silveira Leonardes and Francisca Vitorina da Silveira and maternal of João António Gonçalves and Maria Benedita, was born at 2 am, on 8 April 1879 and was baptised on the 13th, in Topo. Godfather was the paternal grandfather Caetano Silveira Leonardes, farmer, married. The godfather cannot write.

silvers ancestry

Manuel was the couple’s third child. Maria was born in Topo in 1876 and Francisca in 1878. Both were born in Topo and baptized in Topo’s Matris de Nossa Senhora do Rosario church, as had been all their ancestors. Martinho and Ana had been married in 1875:

On 13 October 1875, in Topo, Martinho Caetano da Silveira, single, 31, worker, native of Topo, legitimate son of Caetano Silveira Leonardo and Francisca Vitorina, married to Ana Vitorina da Silveira, single, 25, native of Topo, legitimate daughter of João António Gonçalves and Maria Benedita. They cannot write. Witnesses were Pedro Benedito da Silveira and Joaquim Silveira Leonardes, landowners and living in Topo.

Lomba de São Pedro

Lomba de São Pedro

But shortly after Francisca’s birth in 1878 the family moved to farm in Lomba de São Pedro on the nearby island of São Miguel. Over the coming years six more children were born in Lomba de São Pedro, all of whom were brought back to Topo shortly after birth to be baptized in the family church: João (1880), Rosa (1883), António (1885), Ana (1886), José (1889) and Francisco (1891).

Martinho’s mother, Francisca Vitorina da Silveira, ‘wife of Caetano Silveira Leonardo, veteran soldier,’ died in 1898 in Topo. Her husband Caetano was charged with ‘going to the local judge to give information on his children and his belongings (properties, animals, tools and furniture), but he couldn’t do it, because, due to his age (91) he barely could stand, (never mind) …  walking to the judge’s office. This was told by his maid Ana Rita. The person that went to the judge instead of him was the one that was representing his sons. It was said that the couple owned nothing, nor had any debts’.

Here we find mention of Caetano’s other son: João Caetano Silveira Leonardo. Although João was four years Martinho’s junior (born in 1847), at the age of about 18 he had emigrated to America and seems to have first established himself in California before moving on to Grant County in Oregon.

The Vega

The Vega

By 1893 Martinho and his large family decided that they would join João in America. On 1 April while still in Lomba, and just before boarding ship, Martinho ‘issued a document, giving full power to be represented in any occasion by Isidro de Bettencourt Correia e Avila’. A few months later in October his, by now married, brother João ‘issued a proxy to the same above at the notary William H. Kelley, in Grant County, Oregon’.

Having probably sold his farm in Lomba, Martinho bought tickets for himself and his family from the Empresa Insulana de Navegação (EIN) line of Lisbon to travel on their English-built cargo ship Vega from the Azores to New York.


The family arrived at Ellis Island on 19 April 1893. Martinho gave his occupation as ‘Proprietor’ and said the family were bound for California. They crossed the continent by train and seem to have only passed through California before moving to Oregon. Brother João (by now married) was already in Oregon when Martinho and his family arrived in America and Martin and his family went to join them. What is clear is that in 1890 João was certainly in John Day in Grant County, Oregon, as probably was Martinho’s family too by October 1893. From now on will now call João and Martinho John and Martin and use the English names which all the family adopted, at least officially. The family name changed too, from Silveira to Silvers.

Ellis Island

Ellis Island

Martin and John were both farmers and I imagine they knew that they could buy farms cheaply in Oregon. John settled to start with in John Day in Grant County, where he was with his family in 1900 and 1902 (he had married Francisca/Juanita (known as ‘Jessie’) de Moura in about 1889). Martin went to farm at ‘Express’ i.e. Durkee in Bay County where we find him also in 1900 (his son John Martin is living near his uncle John in John Day, Grant County) and 1910.

Durkee was originally a stage stop called Express, and by the 1860s it was the only transfer point between Umatilla and Boise. It prospered as a water stop and telegraph station for the railroad, and even later as a stop on Highway 30, the only paved road in the area. It was platted in 1908, even though the population had already peaked.

I won’t follow all Martin’s family in detail here. Suffice it to say that Martin’s children started to marry and have children of their own (as did John’s): Francisca married Bernadino (Barney) Moura, Rosa first married Manuel Burgess and then Joseph A Moura, Ana married Joseph A Amada, Antonio/Tony married Grace Mae Francis, Jose/Joseph married Mary and Oregon-born Mary married Haven G Ross.

John Day, Grant County, Oregon

John Day, Grant County, Oregon

In 1902, when he was 23, Manuel Silvers married local girl Arlena Grisdale. Here we have a typically American meeting of cultures: the Portuguese Azores meets Lancashire! We can easily guess how Arlena and Manuel met because in 1900 Manuel was working as a ‘servant’ for the family of Arlena’s older married sister Mary Lucinda (Grisdale) McKinney,  who also lived in Express/Durkee, as did Manuel’s family. It was no doubt in the McKinney household that Manuel first met Arlena.

Actually Arlena had been born in America. She was the fifth child of English immigrant Thomas Grisdale and his Indiana-born wife Elmira Jane Clements. Thomas had arrived in America in 1850 aged just eleven with his Bolton cotton-weaver father Doctor Grisdale and mother Mary Greene, together with his brother Joseph. Having originally moved to the cotton mills of Pennsylvania to work, Doctor Grisdale and his family set off on a long trek across the States. I told their story in an earlier article (see here). When Arlena was born in 1875/6 the family was already in Oregon and her father Thomas was working as Brick Maker. Doctor Grisdale had died in Oskaloosa, Mahaska County, Iowa in 1878 and never reached the West Coast, but the rest of the family finally made it to Oregon in about 1871, about twenty years after the family’s arrival in America and about 22 years before Martinho Silveira set sail from the Azores.

This cotton-weaving Grisdale family weren’t the only ones to come to America, I wrote of just some of the others who followed them to Pennsylvania here and here. Of course all these Grisdales found their roots in Dowthwaite Head in Matterdale (see here).

In 1880 we find the family of Thomas Grisdale in Roseburg, Douglas County, Oregon. Thomas’s sister Mary Ann was also there, having by this time married Timothy Ford. But also Doctor Grisdale’s widow Mary had moved with them to Oregon. As said Thomas was working as a “Brick Maker”. He then moved to Bridgeport, Baker County, Oregon with yet more of his children and was listed there in the 1900 US Census as a “farmer”. So maybe after more than a century it was back to the land! Thomas Grisdale was still living in 1903 because he paid a substantial council tax in Baker, Oregon, in 1903; but his mother Mary died on 26 June 1901 and was buried in Lone Fir Pioneer Cemetery, Portland, Oregon, as was his sister Mary Ann Ford. Thomas’s wife Elmira married Amos Carson following Thomas’s death and died in 1940 In Baker County, Oregon.

So Thomas Grisdale, who was working as a farmer in Bridgeport in 1900, would no doubt have been present at the marriage of his daughter Arlena with farmer’s son Manuel Silvers in 1902, which probably (though not definitely) took place in Durkee. He wouldn’t have been able to talk much with Manuel’s parents because as the censuses make clear Martin and Ana Silvers couldn’t yet speak English.

The Express Ranch in Durkee

The Express Ranch in Durkee

Manuel and Arlena (Grisdale) Silvers started life together on Manuel’s father’s farm in Express/Durkee. Two sons soon followed: James in 1903 and Thomas Martin Silvers in 1905. There was also a daughter called Anna M Silvers born in 1908 who would marry Arthur Edward Powell in 1923 but died after having two children in 1935. But while the children were still small, for some reason Arlena died in 1908 aged just thirty-four. Perhaps she died giving birth to Anna? Manuel must have been devastated and not being able to cope on his own he sent the two boys to live in Baker City where we find them in 1910 with Arlene’s mother Elmira and her unmarried sisters. Baby Anna was sent to be brought up in the house of her Aunt Anna Almada.

But in 1913 Manuel remarried. His new wife was forty-year old widow Malinda Anderson (nee Glassley). They had a child they called Eva in 1915, who later married Keith Chaffin. Manuel lived to the great age of 93, dying in Baker City. (His father Martin also died aged 93 in 1936!) Malinda died in 1960 aged eighty-seven.

Martinho Caetano da Silveira/Silvers  with some grandchildren in California

Manuel and Arlena Grisdale’s children married too. I have mentioned Anna already. James married Vivian Helen Voris but the couple had no children. Thomas Martin married Sadie Irene Craven and they had two sons. Many of Thomas’s descendants still live in Oregon and other states to this day. I’ll just highlight one here. Eugene Thomas Silvers was Manuel and Arlene’s grandson and Thomas and Sadie’s son. His 2001 obituary reads:


Posted May 11, 2001

Wasilla resident Eugene Thomas Silvers, 72, passed away at Patsy’s Assisted Living Care on March 19, 2001.

As per his wishes, he was cremated and no memorial services will be held. His ashes will be scattered over a large body of water in Alaska early this summer.

Mr. Silvers was born July 24, 1928, in Baker, Ore., to Sadie (Craven) Silvers and Thomas Silvers.

He moved to Alaska from Idaho in 1975 and resided in Wasilla until his death.

He enjoyed a varied career — from logging, ranching, industrial construction, carpentry and general contracting — and retired in 1997.

Throughout his years, Gene taught his sons the value of hard work. He was preceded in death by his mother and father, Sadie I. Silvers and Thomas M. Silvers, of Grants Pass, Ore.

Surviving are his former wife and friend, Irene Silvers of Wasilla; sons, Michael G. Silvers of Lacey, Wash., Patrick T. Silvers of Challis, Idaho, and Clifford Silvers of Wasilla; brother and his wife, Donald and Patricia Silvers of Hauser Lake, Idaho; nieces, Becky McGill and family of Oak Harbor, Wash., Peggy Magnuson and family of Vancouver, Wash., Jeanette Tingstrom of Wasilla; and nephew, Robert Silvers of Guam. He is also survived by his caregiver, Patsy Long, of Wasilla.

Andrew Leslie's shipbuilding yard in Hebburn

Andrew Leslie’s shipbuilding yard in Hebburn

One final coincidence. The Vega, the ‘cargo’ ship that brought the Silveiras to New York, was, as I said, English-built. In fact it was built by Alexander Leslie’s shipbuilding yard in Hebburn, Northumberland in 1879. After several owners in England it was sold to the Lisbon-based Empresa Insulana de Navegação (EIN) in 1890 before changing its name to the Benguela in 1900. It was wrecked in 1907 ‘at Mossamedes when inward from Alexandria with a cargo of dried fish’. And here’s the thing: when the Vega was being built in Hebburn a certain Joseph Grisdale was living right next door to the Leslie yard and would have seen it being built; indeed he also helped manufacture some of its components. Joseph was a distant relation of Arlene Grisdale, having common ancestors in Matterdale. I might tell Joseph’s story another time.

The Vega after it became the Benguela

The Vega after it became the Benguela



[1] I am grateful to an unnamed American Silveira descendant who visited the Azores to find the local records and posted them on the internet. I thank him/her.