Genealogy, United States

A Visit to the Old Burying Ground of Westfield, MA

I have always been fascinated by the carved images found on early American gravestones. Imagine how thrilling it was to discover that this kind of tombstone marked the final resting place of one of my colonial New England ancestors in Westfield, Massachusetts. I found it when I visited Westfield’s Old Burying Ground a few years ago, en route to the New England Regional Genealogical Conference which was being held in nearby Springfield.

Westfield was founded in 1669. The oldest known gravestone in the burying ground is that of Abigail Noble, who died in 1683. Childbirth, consumption, dysentery, smallpox and accidents were common causes of death, but a surprisingly large number of those interred here lived to more than 80 years of age.

IMG_8808Among the more than 1100 gravestones and several hundred more unmarked graves in this cemetery, I was looking for the resting places of three of my direct ancestors: my six-times great-grandfather Daniel Bagg, his father-in-law, Isaac Phelps, and his son’s father-in-law, Consider Moseley. I found them in the southeast section of the cemetery where many of the oldest plots are located.1

My first stop was the Athenaeum (the public library) to pick up the key to the cemetery. From there, it was a short walk to what is known as the Mechanic Street Cemetery. Set back from street between two houses, the wrought iron gate was a bit hard to find, but once I entered the cemetery, I was amazed at how large it is, and how well cared for. This old burying ground, which is included in the U.S. National List of Historic Places, was carefully weeded and mowed, protected by a fence and shaded by mature trees. The historic tombstones have been cleaned over the years, and local citizens are trying to find the funds to better preserve them..2

capt Isaac Phelps d 1725 age 87

The grave of Captain Isaac Phelps (1638-1725) was easiest to find because there was a small American flag next to it. Carved in capital letters on his gravestone are, the words, “Capt. Isaac Phelps Anno 1725  age 87 year.” Westfield lay at the western edge of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the tiny settlement was vulnerable to attack from American Indians, so Isaac probably played a role in protecting the community, and a military title to acknowledge that contribution.

Born in Windsor, Connecticut to George Phelps and Philura Randall, Isaac Phelps married Ann Gaylord around 1663 and moved his family to Westfield around 1670. Isaac carried out many civic duties in Westfield over the years: he was town clerk, assessor, surveyor, town treasurer and schoolmaster.3

Isaac and Ann had 11 children, four of whom died young.4 He and Ann were my seven-times times great-grandparents through daughter Hannah, who married Daniel Bagg (1668-1738).

Consider MoseleyLieut. Consider Moseley’s red sandstone tombstone, with a carved face, crown and wings symbolizing everlasting life, was close to Isaac’s.5 Consider (1675-1755) was the fifth of 10 children of John Maudsley (the name was spelled various ways) and Mary Newberry. The Maudsley/Moseley family moved from Windsor to Westfield around the time of Consider’s birth. In 1709, when Consider was 34 years old, he married Elizabeth Bancroft. They had eight children, including twins Elizabeth and Daniel, born in 1714. After his first wife died, Consider married widow Rebecca Dewey. His daughter Elizabeth married David Bagg, the son of Daniel Bagg and Hannah Phelps, in 1739.

According to a history of Westfield, Lieut. Consider Moseley was “one of the wealthiest and most influential men of the town,” however, I have found few details of his life.6 He died on Sept. 12, 1755, age 80.

possibly Daniel Bagg

The grave of Daniel Bagg was more difficult to identify. The stone that I suspect marks his grave is almost illegible. The other problem is that there are three individuals named Daniel Bagg buried in this cemetery. The Daniel Bagg I was seeking was the son of John Bagg and Hannah Burt of Springfield. Many of Springfield’s younger residents moved to Westfield. Daniel became a farmer in the Little River area of Westfield. He and his wife Hannah Phelps had 10 children, and their son David and his wife Elizabeth Moseley were my direct ancestors.

Consider Moseley 3

Ann Gaylord, Elizabeth Bancroft, Hannah Phelps and Elizabeth Moseley are also likely buried in the Old Burying Ground, but their graves are not marked.

All photos by Janice Hamilton

This article is also posted on https://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca

Sources:

  1. Old Burying Ground Mechanic Street Cemetery. http://www.cityofwestfield.org/DocumentCenter/View/419a, accessed March 11, 2018. (The name Bagg is misspelled Back in this 1995 inventory.)
  2. Dan Warner. “After 350 Years, Old Burying Ground in need to a fix-up in Westfield.” Masslive.com, June 27, 2014, http://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2014/06/after_350_years_old_burying_gr.html, accessed March 11, 2018.
  3. Oliver Seymour Phelps and Andrew T. Servin, compilers. The Phelps Family of America and their English Ancestors, with copies of wills, deeds, letters and other interesting papers, coats of arms and valuable records. Vol. II, Pittsfield, MA: Eagle Publishing Company, 1899, p. 1269.
  4. Henry R. Stiles. The History of Ancient Windsor, Vol. II, a facsimile of the 1892 edition, Somersworth: New Hampshire Publishing Co., 1976. p. 509.
  5. Bob Clark, Stories Carved in Stone: Westfield, Massachusetts, West Springfield, Dog Pond Press, 2008.
  6. Rev. John H. Lockwood. Westfield and its Historic Influences, 1669-1919: the life of an early town. Springfield, MA, printed and sold by the author, 1922, p. 384. https://archive.org/stream/westfieldandits00lockgoog#page/n413/mode/2up, accessed March 23, 2018.
Genealogy, Quebec, Social history

Part of the Bagg Family Fonds Now Online

Many people have old family treasures such as letters and albums in the attic. In my family, a collection of 200-year-old business records made their way from the attic to a Montreal museum, and now some them have been digitized and placed online for everyone to explore. Part of the Bagg Family Fonds housed at the McCord Museum, these newly digitized images include records from the store where the workmen who built the Lachine Canal in the early 1820s bought their bread and rum.

The project to digitize these and other documents was financed by Library and Archives Canada to mark the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation and Montreal’s 375th anniversary. The McCord Museum in Montreal is posting some 75 000 images from its collection of textual archives to its website (http://collections.musee-mccord.qc.ca/en/keys/collections/).

The website provides an introduction to the Bagg family and to the scope of the Bagg Family Fonds (P70): http://collections.musee-mccord.qc.ca/scripts/explore.php?Lang=1&tableid=18&tablename=fond&elementid=31__true.  At the bottom of this page are links to four sets of digitized documents: the Laprairie Brewery (1821-1832), the workmen’s store in Lachine (1822-1823), a child’s scrapbook and a young woman’s autograph book that probably dates from around the turn of the century.

My three-times great-grandfather Stanley Bagg was one of the four main contractors in charge of building the Lachine Canal in Montreal in the 1820s. He also ran the store that supplied the workers with bread, tea, sugar, pork and occasionally fish, eggs and butter, although rum and beer seem to have been the most popular items. Some pages list the names of the customers, the items they purchased and the prices they were charged.

Other images record cash payments related to the canal construction, including planks, nails, wheelbarrows, hay (probably for the horses), blasting powder and wages for day labourers.

Another set of records is related to the brewery owned by Stanley’s brother, Abner Bagg. The LaPrairie Brewery account books list expenses such as barley, charcoal, transportation costs and wages. Both the store and the brewery records contain many names of suppliers and customers.

Both of these collections provide a window into life in Montreal some 200 years ago. For example, Quebec historian Donald Fyson used these records as a basis for his thesis, “Eating in the city [electronic resource]: diet and provisioning in early nineteenth-century Montreal” Montréal: McGill University, 1989. http://www.collectionscanada.ca/obj/thesescanada/vol1/QMM/TC-QMM-55597.pdf

No one really knows who had the foresight to save these records, or how they ended up at the McCord. According to one of my cousins, these account books were found in the basement of the Redpath Museum at McGill University, but no one knows who put them there in the first place. Clare Fellowes, daughter of Evelyn (Bagg) Davis, gave an additional gift of textual documents to the museum in 2002 and 2003.

Documents in the Bagg Family Fonds that have not been digitized includes copies of letters that Stanley and Abner wrote to each other and to business colleagues, and a ledger belonging to butcher John Clark, Stanley Bagg’s father-in-law. Documents related to another generation of the family date from the final decades of the 19th century when the Baggs were property owners and real estate developers. This includes a ledger showing property sales, and letters between the Bagg siblings as they discussed and sometimes disagreed about business decisions. There are also personal documents such as a list of wedding presents, recipes and several albums of family photos, taken in the early 1900s by my grandmother, Gwendolyn Bagg. More recently, the late Joan Shackell, a descendant of Abner Bagg, donated a number of items related to her line of the family.

Members of the public can visit the archives at the McCord Museum to consult the Bagg Family Fonds and other collections, but they must make an appointment weeks in advance. It is encouraging to see that some of these documents are now available online.

(This article is also posted on http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca)

See also

Janice Hamilton, “Abner Bagg, Black Sheep of the Family?” Writing Up the Ancestors, April 9, 2015, http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca/2015/04/abner-bagg-black-sheep-of-family.html

Janice Hamilton, “Stanley Bagg and the Lachine Canal, Part 2: Rocks and Water,” Writing Up the Ancestors, March 13, 2015, http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca/2015/03/stanley-bagg-and-lachine-canal-part-2.html