Saturday, October 8, 2016

Edwin Watkins Part Two/Edwin & Isabel's Family

     In time Isabel would forgive the shock and embarrassment of asking the Harmon sisters to vacate their own home, but I doubt she ever forgot it.  She and Edward got on with their lives in the log cabin and before long, children began to arrive.  The 1850 census shows Edward and Isabella Watkins, both aged 38 along with Edwin age 6, James age 5 and Celinda age 3.  All were born in New York excepting Isabel who gave her birthplace as Connecticut.

     Looking at another old newspaper column by Mr. Osgood about his younger days, I read, "We climbed the hill and arrived at the log cabin where Edwin (Edward) Watkins lived.  The family came out to greet us.  A couple of candles were on the table in front of the open widow and Eliza stood in the doorway with a string of large red beads around her neck.  Eliza was Bill's sister and their father was Steve Watkins, another giant of a man.  It was said he was never beaten by any man on the Erie Canal from New York to Buffalo. However, one day a gent put a knife into Steve, and the children came to live with their uncle."  

     This meant Edwin Sr., (or Edward as he appears in census records and will in this blog hereafter to distinguish him from his son), must have had a brother named Steve who was apparently employed on the canal.  Returning to the 1850 census I had no trouble finding Stephen and Elizabeth Watkins both age 25 living in Manchester.  With them were Louisa age 3 and William age 1.  Eliza must not have been born yet.  So, Edward did have a relative nearby after all.  I searched and searched, but could find no further mention of the murder of Steve Watkins.  I did find an article from 1859 describing a Willard Bates being charged with assault & battery after breaking a window sash over the head of a man named Steve Watkins in Canandaigua, NY.  It probably was Edward's brother--the 1860 census shows that Stephen and Elizabeth had moved to that place, along with children William, Eliza, Frances, Stephen and Sarah Watkins ages 12 to 2.

     I checked the NYS census of 1865 hoping to find the county of Stephen's birthplace, the 1855 had left that column blank, but I couldn't locate him.  He must have died between 1860 and 1865.  I found his children William and Eliza with their Uncle Edward, but no trace of Elizabeth and the other children.  Also in Edward's household was his son Edwin J. and Edwin's new wife Jane. That census also revealed that the elder Edward was born in Steuben County, NY and  Edwin J. and the other children in Ontario County.  

     Checking the 1820 census for Steuben County I found a total of one hundred eight individuals under the "free colored persons" heading and forty six slaves, mostly concentrated around Painted Post and Bath, NY.  They weren't enumerated by name so I have no way of knowing who they were, but I did find among the free men, Simon and King Watkins.  They were indexed as "Walkins", but it looks like Watkins to me.  Given the family composition of both men, I'm betting Simon was  Stephen and Edward's father.

     It was around the time of the 1865 census that Edward was elected a trustee of the school district.  All indications are that Edward and his family, with the exception of Stephen of course, were doing well in Manchester.  When Isabel Watkins died she left a will leaving land which bordered Edward's land, to her daughter Celinda.  Clearly The Watkins family had been able to purchase real estate.

     The 1870 Manchester census shows young Edwin J. and his wife Jane now in their own household with a 3 year old daughter, little Hattie.  In 1875 they had been joined by twelve year old Sarah Newport, sister of Jane.  Yes!  Now I had a maiden name for Jane and I found her in 1860 living in Sodus, NY with her family. Manchester's 1880 census tells a sad story.  Edwin was now a widower living alone.  Manchester Village Cemetery, next to the Baptist Church on Main Street, records the burial of Jane Watkins and Infant Watkins, no date given.  What happened?  Was the infant buried with Jane little Hattie or was it another baby?  It's hard to be sure, in 19th century records I've seen children much older than three referred to as infants; on the other hand, death in childbirth was not uncommon at that time.  It turned out to be the latter.  Looking for Hattie in 1880 I found her living with her aunt Celinda and Celinda's husband Charles Ross.  That is the last census in which Edwin J. appears in Manchester, by 1892 he is living alone in Auburn, NY and working as a laborer.

     Perhaps the pain of losing Jane and their baby was more than Edwin could stand to be constantly reminded of, perhaps he felt inadequate to raise a small girl like Hattie on his own.  His mother Isabel passed away in 1881 and so was unavailable to help him; sending her to Celinda must have seemed like the best solution for everyone.  But Edwin had one more surprise for me.  In an article about the history of Manchester Cemetery which appeared in an 1952 edition of the local paper was this--"Edwin Watkins, the colored man who lived on North Avenue... served in the Civil War.  His wife died Oct 2, 1875 at 23 years of age.  Edwin moved to Auburn and remarried.  After his death his second wife, [named as Josephine in the 1900 census], applied for a widow's pension, but had no proof of his first wife's death.  However, Alvin Dewey and Eugene Payne went to the cemetery, replaced the old broken headstone with a new one, took the picture and sent it to the proper authorities.  In the south west corner of the cemetery the stone still stands."  

     Neither man had probably ever met Josephine Watkins who lived in Auburn, and one would think the church burial records and a notarized statement would have satisfied the authorities.  Alvin and Eugene must have done all this out of affection for their old childhood friend Edwin J.

     In Ancestry's US Colored Troops Military Service Records, I found Edwin J. Watkins born in Manchester, enlisted at Palmyra, NY on 23 August 1864, his description says he was six feet tall--another family giant.


  1. We often come across some remarkable people when researching our family history and Edward Watkins was certainly one of them. Isabel probably wished the ground would open up and swallow her when she asked the Harmons to vacate their home! I'd say Edward was never really forgiven for that one.

  2. Well, I hope she forgave him, a little bit anyway. You're right about the interesting people who turn up during our pursuit of family history.