My days at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City this winter, aided by my research notebook, gave me the opportunity to pursue many record sets that I had not used before. Of course many of those turned out not to have the possible record I was seeking. I am recording all those negative results, and also taking a careful look at what I did find.
I have been pursuing the unusual story of my ggg-grandfather Russell Lamphere (1817-1898), who moved his family from Norwich, Connecticut to Tuscaloosa, Alabama in the 1850’s to start a business, and returned by 1875 to Johnston, Rhode Island where he attempted to launch another business. Russell was a metalworker/machinist, and often worked as an overseer in cotton mills, but what the business was exactly, I don’t know. The most intriguing thing I know about him is that a congressional bill for relief was submitted to the U.S. House of Representatives three times in the 1880’s seeking reparations for his losses during the Civil War – totaling $50,000. I have to know what this was. I just have to.
Partnerships in Tuscaloosa
Recently, a perceptive reader pointed out to me that pursuing the wealthy, better documented industrial families of Norwich might reveal a business interest in Tuscaloosa, Alabama … possibly a partner for Russell. She pointed out that it could even explain the relationship with Congressman John Turner Wait. I have stalked Mr Wait and his connections for years and have yet to turn up a plausible link to Russell. So it’s time to pursue this idea, and I am planning a visit to Norwich where I will follow up a bit more on that this summer. It makes a lot of sense because Russell, a metalworker, often worked as an overseer in cotton mills and I suspect his expertise was in the machinery itself … the kind of expertise a wealthy mill owner would probably want to bring with him to Alabama.
In what might have been a later partnership, Russell lost his business partner William B Murrell (a native of North Carolina) to death before February, 1861. An ad appeared in the Independent Monitor of February 1, 1861, page 2:
But there were no property or probate records for Murrell in Tuscaloosa.
Looking for property in Tuscaloosa
I didn’t know if Russell had ever purchased property in Tuscaloosa, so this was my chance to go through Tuscaloosa deeds. Nothing turned up. I wasn’t too surprised. I knew by this ad in the Independent Monitor that he was running a shop in “a house” that was formerly a book store – I could imagine the family might live in the back or upstairs. It always struck me as rental property.
But while I was at it, I also noted the film numbers for deeds back in Norwich, Connecticut, where Russell was born and married, and where his father had lived since 1807. I realized I had never examined any deeds from there, mostly because I didn’t really expect that they owned property. I haven’t worked on Russell in a long time, and I think on my previous visits to Norwich, years ago, I wasn’t used to looking at deeds and didn’t realize that they revealed so much. Rookie mistake, of course.
Property in Norwich, Connecticut
And so I learned that they did, indeed, own property, through some strange and convoluted transactions. I captured images from microfilm and have been examining them for a couple of weeks.
There were six transactions:
- Henry Palmer sold to Russell Lamphere and Russell Lamphere Jr for $200 a tract of land with one half of a dwelling house in the village of Greeneville, Norwich, near Main & Sixth Streets. ALWAYS PROVIDED … notes of hand … well and truly paid with interest … one year from date (this is just a mortgage). 2 Aug 1845 (52:548).
- William Phillips, Conservator of John J Denison of Norwich … a lunatic and distracted person … for $545 paid by Russell Lamphere (who was the highest bidder) certain parcel of land … said homestead … the portion NOT sold to Dwight L. Phillips … (refers to deeds from 1828 and 1839 for full description). 9 Jun 1847 (54:382).
- Dwight L Phillips of Norwich … for $175 received of Russell Lamphere 2nd of said Town … a certain tract of land at Norwich Falls (same property as conveyed to me by William Phillips Conservator of John J. Denison 28 April 1846 – p. 357 – a portion of the old homestead of said John J. Denison, the remainder of which is this day deeded… to Russell Lamphere. 9 Jun 1847 (54:383).
- Russell Lamphere 2d of Norwich … for $400 … received of John J. Denison … a certain lot of land situated in the Town of Norwich at Norwich Falls … the same property as was conveyed to me this day … from William Phillips … and all the buildings thereon standing … ALWAYS PROVIDED … I am justly indebted to him for … the sum of 400 dollars with annual interest … if I do well and truly pay … this present deed to be void (this is just a mortgage) … 9 Jun 1847 (54:384).
- Russell Lamphere 2d of Norwich … for $175 … received of Dwight L. Phillips … do sell … two parcels of land … in the town of Norwich … with the buildings thereon standing … being the same parcels of land as have this day been deeded to me the one from William Phillips as Conservator of John J Denison and fully described in said deed from Wm Phillips to me and the other fully described in a deed from Dwight L. Phillips to me, the whole comprising all the old homestead of John J Denison … ALWAYS PROVIDED … I am indebted to D.L. Phillips by my note … the sum of $175 … if I pay … this present deed to be null and void. 9 Jun 1847 (54:385).
- Russell Lamphere Junior of Montville … for $100 received … quit-claim unto said John Eggleston of Norwich a certain tract of land situate in Norwich, being a part or portion of the “No Man’s Acre” lot, so called … North side of the highway leading from the Methodist Chapel, at Norwich Falls, to the Paper Mill Bridge … meaning to convey in this conveyance, all the buildings on said land, and all appurtenances and privileges … being the land and premises which were conveyed to me by Thames Manufg Co by two deeds, one of which is dated Feb. 28, 1828, and is recorded in Norwich, in the 40th Book of Deeds, at the 527th page, and the other bears the date the 1st day of April 1828, and is recorded in said records, Book 44st at page 43, to which reference is had … set my hand and seal … 15 May 1851 (57:384).
As I read deed #6 I realized that when I perused these deeds at the Family History Library, I missed the point that the property had been acquired by Russell Lamphere 2nd in 1828. Although Russell’s birth was apparently unrecorded, he consistently reported a birth year of 1817 or 1818. He can’t have purchased the property from the Thames Manuf. Co. at the age of 10 or 11. And it couldn’t be Russell Lamphere, Sr. since his father’s name was Daniel (by 1850, “Jr.” or “2nd” was very likely to have the same meaning that it has today). Not only that, but Russell was recorded in the 1850 census living in Norwich. I wasn’t sure what “of Montville” was referring to in an 1851 deed.
I have studied the name Lamphere in Norwich for a long time. All Lampheres at the Falls seem to be Russell Lamphere 2nd’s parents or siblings. The idea that ANOTHER, older Russell Lamphere 2nd was hanging around the Falls buying property was quite a lot to take in. I really, really had to know what those 1828 deeds said. It was the first morning of the NERGC conference. I realized it was one of the few days I would have off of work for a couple of months. So, I made a quick trip to Norwich before attending the conference that day. It was a genealogy emergency.
A quick visit to Norwich City Hall
The town hall had binders of photocopied pages on display in place of the oldest deed books. I couldn’t photograph them; their system required that I pay for them to remove and photocopy the pages, which was fine. I easily found the deeds thanks to the clear citations in the 1851 deed. Sure enough:
- Deed 40:527 was a deed for part of “No Man’s Acre” being sold for $870 to Stephen Remington, by the Thames Manufacturing Co., 28 Feb 1828, signed by William P Greene and Williams C. Gilman.
- Deed 44:43 was for an additional portion of the “No Man’s Acre” also sold to Stephen Remington for $100, 1 April 1828.
I investigated the Thames Manufacturing Company and found a good overview of the establishment of the various mills and factories at the Falls in Modern History of New London County, Chapter VI, “The City of Norwich” (particularly p. 150-152). Some businesses failed during the panic of 1837, and the buildings were later re-used by new companies. I can only conclude that the phrase “conveyed to me” in the 1851 deed was simply an error. Many portions of deeds were copied (I recognized the descriptions from deed to deed) and the deeds recorded in the town hall are, themselves, copies. Careless wording could have happened at any point.
Don’t look now, but I think I just passed some sort of genealogy milestone. I found my first mistake in a deed.
Studying the map
Once I got to the conference, I found a CD for sale of Walling’s 1854 map of New London County from Old-Maps. The Falls section, pictured above, shows the Falls Mfg. Company site, which was the former location of the Thames Mfg. Co. Because I have been to Yantic Cemetery several times, I realized the earliest section (where Russell and Hannah Lamphere are buried) was shown on the map as “Cemetery.”
The story the deeds are telling
- Russell Lamphere and his father gave a $200 mortgage in 1845 to Russell’s brother-in-law, Henry Palmer (married since 1830 to Russell’s oldest sister, Lydia Lamphere).
- The transactions in deeds 2, 3, 4 and 5 all occurred on the same day, 9 Jun 1847. Russell purchased, in two separate transactions, the full property of lunatic John J. Denison for a total of $720. He obtained two mortgages from the sellers (one, the Administrator of Denison’s estate, the other, a local man who had purchased the other portion of the estate at the auction) for a total of $575. The property was located in Norwich Falls and was at one time owned by the Thames Manufacturing Co.
- Russell Lamphere was living in Montville (just to the south of Norwich) in 1851. He left Connecticut shortly thereafter; my gg-grandmother Emma Lamphere would be born in Alabama in 1854.
- Russell quit claimed his rights to the entire property in 1851 for $100. Quit claim means you give up any rights you may or may not have in a property; I assume because of the mortgages that Russell couldn’t sell it in any other manner. This is murky to me; the mortgages aren’t mentioned. So, he owned the property for four years.
Who was John J. Denison?
Norwich vital records show that John J Denison married Olive Jillson in 13 Feb 1828 (p. 685). The following mortuary notice appeared in The Morning News (New London, CT) Vol. I, issue: 158, P. 3 (15 May 1845):
DIED … In Norwich Falls, on the 11th inst., Mrs. Olive Denison, wife of John Denison.
John J. Denison died in 1875 in Norwich and was buried in Yantic Cemetery (Lot 16). An article in the Daily Constitution (Middletown, CT) vol. III, issue 768, p2 (21 January 1875) reads as follows:
John J. Denison, who has lived a recluse at Norwich Falls ever since the death of his wife, twenty-nine years ago, was found dead in his bed the other day. He refused to live with his children, persisting in a solitary mode of living. The neighbors having missed him from the streets for some days, entered his hermitage by a window and found him.
John Denison lived next door to Russell in 1850. This probably just means that they let the recluse rent or just live somewhere on the property even after the 1847 sale.
Was John J. Denison (likely born in 1805 in nearby Stonington, Connecticut) a relative of Russell Lamphere’s mother, Lydia Minor (Minor is a common Stonington name and Lydia is a brick wall with unknown family)? John appears on page 123 of Baldwin & Clift’s A Record of the Descendants of Capt. George Denison (1888) as John I Denison. I have no idea of the reliability of this book, but I cannot make out a possible relationship to Lydia.
Oddly, Russell Lamphere Sr. had a sister Nancy (Lamphere) Crocker (1787-1862) who had a son named John Denison Crocker. While a relationship to John Denison is looking unlikely, any connection might possibly go back to Russell Sr.’s brick wall mother, Nancy (—) Lamphere (c1752-1833).
The big questions
- Was the 1847 purchase intended for establishing a business, or just for a residence? Given the location and history of the property, it could be either.
- Will Norwich newspapers and books help me determine if any well-financed mill owners started an operation in Tuscaloosa in the early 1850’s? If so, why did Russell have a new partner by 1860?
- Can I find additional evidence in Tuscaloosa? I do have a few books to read through. It was a depressing time in Tuscaloosa. It’s been hard to get myself to learn more, but, learning more always helps.
- Is there any evidence in Norwich newspapers of Russell and Hannah’s life and departure for Tuscaloosa?
- Is there any point in further research on the congressional bills from the 1880’s? Once, a kind blog reader put a request in for me to the National Archives in DC. Nothing was found, but I wonder if I could try again, perhaps by hiring my own NARA researcher.
- Does May, 1851 – the date of the last Norwich deed – represent the departure date for the Lampheres? I suspect it does. And why was Russell “of Montville” when he had just been enumerated in 1850 in Norwich? Were they staying with someone?
- Will tracing John Denison back to Stonington, on my own, not relying on any books, help me find something to link him to a Lamphere wife?
- Are there any other middle name clues to be found amongst the descendants of Daniel and Nancy Lamphere? I have tried to find any, but need to try harder.
- Can DNA results help at all?
A note to my readers
If you think you are a fourth, fifth or sixth cousin to me, and you have a DNA test on Ancestry DNA or Family Tree DNA, can you drop me a note and tell me the name listed as the test taker? I would appreciate it. And there are a lot of cousins out there; I am lucky to hear from them from time to time.
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