My great-great grandmother Jessie Ruth (MacLeod) Murdock was born in Pictou, Nova Scotia around 1861. She came to the United States as a teenager and married, in 1883, Louis Rufus Murdock, my great-great-grandfather. They had three daughters of which my great grandmother, Eva Louise (Murdock) Darling, was the oldest.
Jessie Ruth MacLeod Murdock
Jessie and her husband Louis present some special challenges for the family historian. Lewis was always known to be adopted, in Providence, R.I., by William and Maggie (Lawrence) Murdock. And Jessie, although known to be from Pictou, was hard to research, and I had no evidence about what might have brought her to New England. Her father was listed on her marriage record as William MacLeod, and her mother, as Rachel. Although I was unable to find such a family in Pictou, I discovered that William Murdock, Louis’ adopted father, was from Pictou. That seemed like it might be too much of a coincidence, but still, I couldn’t make much of it, because the name William Murdock is about as hard to pin down in Nova Scotia as William MacLeod was.
My first big break came in 2012 when a 5th cousin on the MacLeod side contacted me to let me know about a family history book published by Jessie’s nephew, in Pictou, in 1958. That post is here. But imagine my surprise when the book claimed that Jessie was adopted by William MacLeod and his wife, Mary. And yet, since she was pretty clear on her marriage record that William MacLeod was her father, and Rachel her mother, and since she had been missing from William and Mary’s 1871 Canadian census record in Hopewell, Pictou (when she would have been around 10 years old) I can only assume she was related to these people in some way, and perhaps she had spent her early life with her mother, Rachel, before arriving in the William and Mary MacLeod family, for whatever reason. William and Mary lived and died in Pictou and never relocated to the U.S. So clearly, Jessie had other connections somehow, somewhere.
The strategy for researching Jessie
This is an unusual case where I think my best bet for unlocking Jessie’s story is through her father in law. I wonder where William Murdock was from in Pictou, and if he had any relations named Rachel. No birth place or point of origin has surfaced in my direct research on him. So I am going to try and locate all his children, hoping that their c1900-1920 death records will give some additional information.
Ironically, I do not believe I am related to William Murdock at all through his adopted son, Louis. I have a theory that Louis may be Maggie (Lawrence) Murdock’s relation showhow, but that’s a story for another day.
Learning more about William Murdock
William Murdock was born on Christmas day, 1822, perhaps in Pictou, Nova Scotia, the son of Robert and Mary Murdock. He married Maggie Lawrence in Providence in 1865. He was a shoemaker, but later worked as an expressman, and finally, in 1880 purchased a small farm in Seekonk, Massachusetts. Looking at the 1870 census record, you can see William and Maggie with 3 children – Annie (11), Louis (7) and William (3). Only William Jr. was born after the marriage, and since Louis always said he was adopted, I wondered if the couple had married a little late in life and adopted two children, and also gave birth to one.
There were several William Murdock families in the Rhode Island area around this time, and it took many, many clues before I put together that William had another marriage before marrying Maggie.
The second Jessie Murdock
My first solid clue about other children in William’s household came when I discovered the 1875 R.I. state census record for William Murdock. The three children I knew about were there, plus another, Jessie. Jessie was given as a 15 year old daughter in the Murdock family, born in Nova Scotia. It occurred to me briefly to wonder if she was my great-great grandmother, a cousin perhaps, arrived to live with the family from Nova Scotia and misclassified as a daughter.
Three records made me realize that there was indeed a Jessie who was William’s daughter, and there was an earlier family:
- I finally found the 1860 census record for the family, which was mis-indexed in Ancestry.com as “Mondock”. The parents are William and Eliza Murdock. There are four daughters: Mary (11), Martha(8), Anna(4), and Jessie(5/12). They were all, even the baby, born in Nova Scotia. If accurate, that gave a good indication of a recent arrival in the U.S.
- Once I had the children’s names to search for, I quickly located an immigration document on Ancestry.com. It was in the U.S., Atlantic Ports Passenger Lists, 1820-1873 and 1893-1959 (Rhode Island, Providence). On June 19, 1860, William (occupation Shoemaker), Eliza, Mary, Martha, Ann and Jessie Murdock arrived in Providence, Rhode Island on the Brig Diamond of the Deep from Pictou, Nova Scotia.
- Since the Massachusetts Land Records collection came online on FamilySearch (unindexed, but browsable) I have been pulling some out and filing them on my computer. So when I reviewed my Murdock files I realized that a deed that had been hard to understand 6 months ago was now very clear. In 1891 the widow, Maggie, was given, for the price of one dollar, the other half of William Murdock’s property in Seekonk, Massachusetts (see my post on finding that property, here). The sellers were Peter King, his wife Martha King, Alick Holmes, his wife Jessie Holmes, Mary Foster (all of Newport, R.I), and William C. Murdock. The property described was identical to, and referred to, the deed I had found for William’s purchase. Angus MacLeod was a witness.
William Murdock’s first and second families
So I now had evidence of William Murdock’s six children and two wives. With the evidence already mentioned in hand I thought I could quickly find some details of their lives, looking for middle names and especially death dates so I could find their death records at the Rhode Island State Archives, looking for their exact birthplace in Nova Scotia. However, this was not quick, because their lives were absolutely fascinating.
- William’s first wife Eliza (Coghill) married him in Nova Scotia and they had four children by the time they came to Rhode Island in 1860. They settled in Providence, where William pursued his occupation, shoemaking. Eliza died in 1864 in Providence, of consumption.
- Margaret A. (Lawrence) Murdock, known as Maggie, was William’s second wife, married in 1865. Reportedly born in the south around 1838, the daughter of English immigrants, Margaret was living with her parents in Providence in the 1865 Rhode Island census, and when she married William shortly thereafter the marriage record listed her as “divorced”. Margaret and William were married until his death in 1890. After that, Margaret married once again, in 1898, to Seekonk neighbor Jeremiah Johnson Knight, a 68 year old man whose second wife had died, leaving him with a couple of young children. They were only married two years before his death, and during that time he may have been ill. Maggie lived until 1921.
His children with Eliza
Mary Tanner Murdock
Born in 1849, oldest daughter Mary was 11 when the family arrived in Providence. She would have been 15 when her mother died. She married young, to Theodore W. Foster. Theodore was a talented and hard working entrepreneur, with an interest in the manufacture of jewelry, a growing industry in Rhode Island. Theodore and Mary settled in Pawtucket, and soon he was able to start his own manufacturing company, with some partners: White, Foster & Co., later Foster & Bailey. By 1899 he bought the partners out and renamed the company Theodore W. Foster & Bro. Co. The company, at 100 Chestnut Street (pictured here, at the Providence City Archives) was a major manufacturer of silver giftware such as jewelry, trays, pins, shoe horns, vanity sets, and desk accessories. Along the way Theodore, always the inventor, secured dozens of patents, and instituted a cleaner and safer work environment. His beautiful products can still be purchased, as antiques, on the web.
Mary, Theodore and their family of five children enjoyed growing wealth and prominence. And then something very strange happened. The family moved to Providence, and attended the Methodist Church on Chestnut Street. The couple was very friendly with the handsome minister, Rev. Charles L. Goodell, and his wife, Louella. Theodore was director of the Sunday School. When Mr. Goodell was assigned to his next church, the Trinity Methodist Church on Broad Street, the Fosters obtained a pew and switched their membership there. In 1886, newspapers in the eastern U.S. were reporting that Mary was being sued for divorce by Theodore, on the grounds of her affair with the minister. In fact both couples filed for divorce and the cases were heard in the Rhode Island Supreme Court during the same week in 1887; Theodore Foster obtained his divorce, but Louella Goodell, wife of the minister, faced counter-claims of infidelity and her divorce was denied at that time. The Methodist church exonerated Rev. Goodell and he did not lose his job.
In that parish was Mrs. Mary T Foster, a preposessing lady, whose husband, Theodore W. Foster, is of the manufacturing jewelry firm of Foster & Bailey. Mrs. Foster lived in elegant style at the corner of High and Brigham Street, her house being richly furnished throughout with every comfort at command. She had a most interesting family of children, lovable and attractive, and many an envious eye was turned toward their carriage as it rolled along toward the Chestnut Street church Sunday mornings. The Goodells and Fosters became very intimate, as Mr Foster was superintendent of the Sunday School and Mrs. Foster was prominent in church work, and between the two families of bond of friendship appeared to have been formed … — Boston Herald, September 2, 1886, p.5.
Mr Foster took the stand and told of his wife’s confession in a broken voice, and with tears running down his cheeks. His wife’s confession was that one day in the vestry of the church Goodell took her by the hand, retained his gaze, and almost seemed to magnetize her. A few days later he came to the house, kissed her hand, and then placing his arm around her waist, asked her to be his sister, as he never had had a sister. The next advance and the first direct overture, was when he came to her house, told her that she did not love her husband and that he did not love his wife. Therefore they were in the eyes of Heaven married. The remainder of the testimony was too indecent for publication. — Cleveland Leader, December 16, 1886, p.2
One day Mr. Foster told his story to the newspapers. “My wife”, said he, “began to act queerly. She seemed disturbed, and said that she had a confession to make. With amazement I heard her story. She told me that she had been unfaithful to her marriage vows, giving the name of Dr. Goodell, my pastor and my bosom friend, as her paramour. I was thunderstruck. I took her face in my two hands and begged her to say no more then. Mary, said I, let me think … let me think over it. From that hour she ceased to be my trusted wife and companion. She besought me piteously to condone her sin, but I told her that henceforth she might occupy our residence, but we must be as strangers.” — New York Herald, December 19, 1886, p. 8.
Theodore remarried in 1894. I am unsure of what became of Mary after her divorce. There is some evidence she went to her sister in Newport, and may have remained there since she was “of Newport” when she signed the 1891 deed, above. The Rhode Island Historical Cemeteries Transcription Project has Mary T. Murdock Foster, 1848-1899 buried in the North Burial Ground, Providence, but I will be checking her death record at the R.I. State Archives.
Martha M. Murdock
Born in 1852, Martha arrived in Providence at the age of 8. In 1878 she married Peter King, a Scottish immigrant who was a rising clerk at The Boston Store in Providence. Around this time Peter King and a fellow clerk, Angus MacLeod (also a Scottish immigrant, from Lewis) decided on Newport, Rhode Island as a suitable spot to open a dry goods store of their own. They named it The Boston Store, (see a photo of the store here) but I suspect there was no real connection to the original Boston Store in Providence. The King-MacLeod partnership thrived, encompassing the popular and growing department store as well as some other interests. The Boston Store was, eventually, located at 153-157 Thames Street, Newport. Peter King and Angus MacLeod (who was witness to the deed, above) became financial leaders in the Newport community, chairing the boards of many leading institutions and participating widely in church, hospital, political and fraternal activities. Martha and Peter had nine children, and sent many of them to college, and several of the boys pursued business interests begun by their father. They owned a beautiful Victorian house at 10 Kay Street, Newport, near Touro Street and the Hotel Viking. Peter died in 1932 and Martha passed away in 1940.
Annie was born in Nova Scotia around 1855 and arrived in Providence at the age of 5. In the 1865 R.I. State Census, at age 9, she and Jessie Murdock were living on Mountain Street near Atwells Avenue in Providence, in the home of Daniel and Hannah Coghill, both age 37, and Thomas A Coghill, age 17. All household members were born in Nova Scotia. Since Coghill was their mother Eliza’s name I can only assume the two sisters were staying with relatives after their mother’s death in 1864. Annie appeared in the 1870 and 1875 census records with William and Maggie. By 1875 she was 19, but not working, which is a little unusual – many daughters in my family at that time clerked in stores, or packed jewelry. In 06 May 1876 this item appeared in the Providence Evening Press: “DIED. MURDOCK – In this city, 6th instant, Annie Murdock, daughter of William and Elizabeth Murdock, in the 21st year of her age. — Funeral on Monday, at 2 o’clock, from 192 Clifford Street. – Nova Scotia papers please copy.” The Providence death record gives the age as 20, and the mother as Eliza.
Jessie McIntosh Murdock
Jessie was an infant when the family arrived in Providence in 1860; in fact her birth in Nova Scotia was so recent that the parents entered it on the birth records of Providence (found on FamilySearch.org). The town cited was “New Glasgow” in Pictou. In 1875 Jessie was living with William and Maggie on Spruce Street in Providence. In January 1880 she married Alexander McIntyre Holmes, a wheelwright, originally of Prince Edward Island. By the 1900 census the family had six children. They spent their married life in Newport and in 1919, when Jessie died, the family resided at 9 Newport Avenue, Newport.
his children with Maggie
Louis Rufus Murdock
My great-great grandfather Louis believed himself to be adopted. Born 29 July 1863 in Providence, I have seen some evidence that he may have been in Maggie’s household before she married William Murdock. Now that I know William had all those children, and that two children were cared for by relatives during the period between his marriages, I am skeptical that William and Maggie would have decided to adopt. I think Louis was Maggie’s child either by birth or adoption through some sort of family connection. Louis married Jessie Ruth MacLeod from Pictou in 1883, and they had three daughters. Louis worked for 50 years as a machinist at Brown & Sharpe, a machinery company in Providence. I have no idea what his relationships were among these relatives mentioned here. Since Maggie Lawrence’s father was a machinist, I suspect Louis got his start in life from that grandfather.
I found it a little hurtful that in the list of heirs who sold their portion of William Murdock’s estate back to Maggie, Louis was not mentioned, but the other four living heirs were. At first glance that makes it seem as if William made no pretense of being a true adopted father. But of course there are many other possibilities – Louis was provided for in a different way, or perhaps if there was no will, there were legal reasons why only the other offspring were considered heirs. This possibly provides support to the idea that Louis was more closely connected to Maggie, rather than to William, and had come to the new marriage as Maggie’s adopted child. Whatever the truth may have been, I do get the impression that Louis had a happy life and was a friend to all. He died in 1949 in Providence.
William Clark Murdock
William and Maggie Lawrence had one child after their marriage, William Clark Murdock, born 1868. William Clark, a silversmith, married Susan Lydia Fairchild in Seekonk in 1894. They had three sons and divorced shortly after 1900. William must have been fond of his brother, Louis, because he named his third son after him, Louis Rufus Murdock, born 1898. In 1910 William Clark was living at 101 Mitchell Street in Providence (the address today is an older, nondescript, narrow 2 family house on a small lot near Elmwood & Potters Ave.) with his mother and a boarder. His son Earl Forrest Murdock graduated from high school in 1913, and from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1915 (according to Earl’s obituary in the Springfield, Mass. Union-News, 21 Nov 1992; Earl lived a long life in Franklin County, Mass. and left many descendants). In 1915, the state census showed William Clark living with sons Earle and Louis, and with niece (brother Louis’ daughter) Chris, and her husband, Charles Faulkenburg. In 1920, he was still on Mitchell Street with his mother and sons Earl and Louis. In 1920, his son Louis was employed as a student in a dental office. In 1930 William Clark was running a boarding house on rented property on Beacon Street in Providence, with son Louis living with him, no employment listed. Sadly, the younger Louis spent the 1930’s as an inmate in the Rhode Island State Hospital for Mental Diseases at Sockanosset in Cranston. William Clark Murdock died in 1933.
The third Jessie Murdock
There is one more Jessie Murdock, who was Jessie and Louis Murdock’s daughter Jessie Ellen Murdock, born 23 December 1889 in Providence. Jessie, known to my mother as Aunt Jay, married Alonzo Daniel Billington (Uncle Lon) in 1911. They had no children, and Jessie died too young in 1939.
- I’m not sure if I have checked well enough for a probate record for William Murdock.
- I would like to see Jeremiah Johnson Knight’s (Maggie’s third husband) probate records. I wonder where his children went after his death.
- A visit to the R.I. State Archives may reveal the remaining middle names and I am hoping to see a place of birth on several death records to really feel confident that I know where the family was from (possibly New Glasgow in Pictou).
- With all this new information, move on to the Nova Scotia portion of the research. Knowing, now, of a possible sibling for Eliza Coghill Murdock will help. A possible cousin in the Murdock line (Mitch) has shared some research with me which may be very useful once I know where they were from in Pictou.
- I think the next post on this subject will be about William’s parents, Robert and Mary Murdock, and Eliza Coghill’s family, and any connections I can find to a Rachel who might be Jessie MacLeod Murdock’s mother.
- Head south with my research and explore the early life of Maggie Lawrence. There is evidence they lived in several southern states before arriving in Rhode Island; perhaps their lives were disrupted by the civil war.
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