Society Saturday: Howe They Began

This entry is part 2 of 8 in the series Howe Letters

It’s been a week since I began piecing together the lives of the Howe family from the letters loaned to me by the local historical society, and what a week it’s been! I started off by poking around online, mostly at FamilySearch and Ancestry, and I was able to uncover the marriage and birth records for several generations previous to Phineas Howard Howe (the main writer of the letters), most of them residing in Maine. In fact, his family was so deeply entrenched in the area that their family lines reached back  into the 1700s and several local landmarks bore the names of various families connected to them. For example, Phineas H. Howe was named for his grandfather, Phineas Howard, who was proprietor of ‘Howard’s Gore’, an area that later combined with the town of Bethel in 1843 to become the town of Hanover, Maine. The history of that is outlined on a nice little webpage here. It mentions Howard’s Gore and P. H. Howe’s grandfather, Phineas Howard. It also has a tidy map at the bottom of the page of the town of Hanover, and many Howes can be seen thereon, most of them surely related to Phineas. His own father, Joel Howe, married Esther Howard, daughter of Phineas Howard, in 1810 and lived in the area most of his life.

P. H. Howe, the central figure of the letters I have, was born to Joel Howe and Esther (Howard) Howe on December 8th, 1819. This seems fairly solid, as I’ve found it on both his Maine marriage record and in one of the letters he wrote to his eldest son, Osborn, dated April 11, 1865. P. H. Howe married Nancy Graham Staples, the daughter of William Staples and Joanna Quint. The Maine marriage record says 1845, but Phineas himself (in the same letter mentioned above) indicates he “was married May 26, 1841,” and I’m more inclined to trust the man’s own recollection than the transcription of old records.

I’m not sure if it’s a sign of the times or something in the family genes that made them prone to illness and early death, but this has become a recurring theme in my research of the Howe family. Phineas and Nancy had four sons, Phineas Osborn (b. 1842), Freeman M. (b. 1844), Jonathon Morris, (b. 1847), and Charles A (b. 1848.) Charles A, the youngest, died of lung fever on June 12, 1850, and is recorded on the 1850 census mortality schedule. Freeman M. was listed on the census with his parents and brothers, but apparently did not survive thereafter, for he isn’t mentioned in any of Phineas’ later letters. It’s also unclear what happened to Nancy, the mother and Phineas’ wife, but it is most likely she died sometime prior to 1857, when the first of Phineas’ letters to his sons began. When P.H. left Maine, his eldest son, Osborn, was about 15  and the youngest of his still-surviving sons, J. Morris, was only 10 or 11. From what the letters indicate, they would live with various friends and relatives until their majority, without either mother or father at hand.

So, what could possess a widower to leave his two young sons behind and set out to an unknown part of the country, knowing full well he might never see his children again?

Stay tuned for next ‘Society Saturday,’ when the Howe story continues!

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