One Rhode Island Family

The Two Jessie Murdocks

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.

Louis and Jessie Ruth (MacLeod) Murdock. I assume this is around the time of their wedding, 1883.

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.

Lewis and Jessie Murdock. c 1930

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.

This is a family photo of, I believe, William and Maggie Murdock’s modest farmhouse in Seekonk, Mass. My great grandmother was born there.

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:

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.

His wives

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 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.

The Jewelers Circular, August 10, 1898, p.2

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.

A home at the corner of Bridgham and Westminster (formerly High) Streets, Providence. Any 1880’s houses from the other corners of the intersection are now gone.  This could have been the Fosters’ home, or not.  Photo by Diane Boumenot.

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. Her death record at the R.I. State Archives indicates that she died of “La Grippe” (flu) on February 12, 1899 in Rodondo, Los Angeles, California, age 50.

Theodore W Foster & Bro. Co. Plant, Providence, from Biographical History of the Manufacturers and Businessmen of Rhode Island (Providence: J.D. Hall, 1901).

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 the was no real connection to the original Boston Store.  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.

A view of Kay Street, Newport,  c1905, from Newport and Its Points of Interest, page 21.

Annie Murdock

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. 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.

Louis Murdock as a young man

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 Fairfield 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.

Jessie Ellen Murdock Billington, 1889-1939.

Next steps

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