The Jamestown Opera House

Exterior of the Opera House

Today I was fortunate enough to attend a performance at the Jamestown Opera House built in 1889.  It sits almost in the middle of the small town of Jamestown, Ohio.  One of the performers sang a capella, without a microphone, and the sound was amazing.  The song reverberated through the auditorium – the acoustics were that good.  Not long ago this building was in danger of being demolished.  It had been empty since 1997, when the library and village government offices moved to their new building.  Until 2009, the last performance there had been in 1937. 

A few years after the Jamestown Opera House had stood vacant, a group of concerned citizens formed the Jamestown Area Historical Society (JAHS), with the main goal of restoring the opera house so it could be used again as a focal point for the community.  Over the course of ten years, the JAHS raised and spent $400,000 on renovating the opera house, not counting the grants and volunteer time. 

The Jamestown Opera House is once again holding performances, and the goals of the JAHS are to finish restoring the opera house and to get more people to attend the performances.  Although it is not completely restored, it has come a long way. 

Seating in the Auditorium

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The Spicer Family

Last week I mentioned my ancestor, Samuel Spicer, so this week I will tell a little bit more about the Spicer family.  Samuel Spicer was born in 1640, either in England or New England, the son of Thomas and Michael (yes, this is his mother’s name) Spicer.   The Spicer family accompanied Lady Deborah Moody from Massachusetts to Gravesend around 1643.  Samuel, Thomas, and Jacob Spicer are listed as freeholders in the town in 1656.  Sometime before 1660, Samuel became a Quaker, and was arrested and imprisoned in New Amsterdam for ‘encouraging Quakers.’  Samuel’s mother Michael was also arrested and charged with ‘trying to entice even young girls to join the Quakers.’  Mary Dyer (who became a Quaker martyr) and John Taylor finished a preaching tour in Gravesend in 1659. 

Sometime around 1665, he married Esther Tilton, the daughter of John and Mary Tilton.  This is the same Mary Tilton who was banned along with Deborah Moody for not believing in infant baptism.  The Tiltons also followed Deborah Moody to Gravesend.  Esther was born in 1646.  Samuel and Esther had nine children, Abraham in 1666, Jacob (my 6th great grandfather) in 1668, Mary in 1671, Sarah in 1674 (died young), Martha in 1676, another Sarah in 1667, Abigail in 1683, Thomas, and Samuel. 

John Tilton and Samuel Spicer are witnesses to a deed of purchase of land from Native Americans at Gravesend in 1684.  In 1686, Samuel and his family moved to West Jersey.  There is a letter from the Quaker meeting in Gravesend recommending them to their new Quaker meeting.  (Quakers, when they moved, had their meeting write them a leter of recommendation, essentially saying that they were good and respected members.)  He held worship at his new home before the new meetinghouse was erected in Newton.  He became a representative to Quaker meetings.  He was appointed a judge of the Gloucester County courts in 1687.  He died in 1699 at the age of 59.

Esther died four years after Samuel, in a rather unusual way.  It appears that she was sitting in her house with several others when they were struck by lightning.  None of them survived.  Esther was 58.  They were both buried in the Newton Friends cemetery, which is recorded as ‘utterly neglectected and overgrown’ in a Victorian-era genealogy.  It appears that the cemetery is now beginning to be looked after, or at least that’s what I was able to find online.

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Lady Deborah Moody

One of my favorite women in American history is little known.  I stumbled upon her by accident, when researching the Leaming/Spicer branch of my geneology.  I was using a geneology database where you can search old books for names and places, when I found in a Spicer geneology that Samuel Spicer and his family accompanied Lady Deborah Moody in leaving Massachusetts and founding the town of Gravesend, on Long Island, New York.  In another book, The Civil, Political, Professional, and Ecclesiastical History and Commercial and Industrial Record othe the County of Kings and the City of Brooklyn, N. Y. from 1683 to 1884 by Henry R. Stiles, I found more.  I thought this was unusual, since women leaders are rarely featured in histories of the late 19th century, except Anne Hutchinson.

Unfortunately, not much is known about her, even the exact dates of her birth and death are unknown.  Much of the information in this post comes from “Lady Deborah Moody and Gravesend, 1643 – 1659” by Lucille Koppleman in De Halve Maen, vol. 67, issue 2, published in 1994.  Lady Deborah (Dunch) Moody was born in Avedon, Wiltshire, England, sometime between 1582 and 1584, the daughter of Walter Dunch, a lawyer and member of parliament, and Deborah Pilkington, who was the daughter of a radical Protestant bishop.  She was a contemporary of Queen Elizabeth I, and was well educated.  In 1606 she married Henry Moody, a wealthy landowner.  He was made a baronet by James I in 1622.  They had two children Henry, and a daughter, about whom nothing is known.  Sir Henry passed away in 1629.

She became associated with the nonconformists in England.  Many of her relatives were persecuted during the reign of Charles I.  In 1639, she followed John Winthrop to the Massachusetts Bay colony.  In 1642, she was cited in the local court along with three others (including Mary Tilton, my 8th great-grandmother) for not believing that the baptism of infants was an ordinance of God.  John Winthrop wrote about her “The lady Moodye, a wise and anciently religious woman, being taken with the error of denying baptism to infants, was dealt withal by many of the elders an others and admonished by the church of Salem . . . persisting still, and to avoid further trouble, etc., she removed to the Dutch, against the advice of all her friends.” 

In 1643, she was granted a patent from Director-General Willem Kieft to establish a settlement in New Netherland, where they were allowed freedom of worship and self-government, as trading in furs and owning and cultivating land.  In New Netherland, women had more freedoms under Dutch law than English law in land ownership and business management.  Shortly after settling Gravesend, there was a Native American attack.  All the homes were burned except for hers, which was defended by forty men. 

Plan of Gravesend

The town plan of Gravesend was unique, and there are no known prototypes.  It is unknown if she designed it or not.  She was the certainly the leading citizen of the town, conducting town meetings, securing land titles from the Native Americans, and working with Peter Stuyvesant, the one-legged Dutch Director-General of New Netherland, to maintain their freedom of religion and self-government.  In fact, the first Quaker meeting was held in Lady Moody’s house in Gravesend in 1657, and my ancestors, Samuel Spicer and his wife Esther Tilton, became Quakers.  It is unclear if Lady Moody became a Quaker herself. 

It is unclear when Lady Moody died, but it was probably around 1659.  Her son Henry took over things for a while, but he eventually left Gravesend and moved to Virginia.  My ancestors, the Spicers, along with several other families, moved south to New Jersey in 1665 and founded Cape May, New Jersey. 

I wonder why so little is mentioned of her in histories.  She seems so interesting and should belong in with the other prominent dissenting women such as Anne Hutchinson and Quaker martyr Mary Dyer.  I only found two articles on her, the one previously mentioned, and “Lady Deborah Moody and the Founding of Gravesend” by Linda Biemer in The Journal of Long Island History vol. 117, issue 2 from 1981.  Most of their information comes from older sources, such as the 1881 history that I found her in.  She appears mostly in local histories.  The only exception I found was that she appears in Notable American Woman, a Biographical Dictionary edited by T. James and published in 1971.  The current trend in women’s history is to focus more on the everyday women and minority women, which is good, but I still wonder.  As Lucille Koppelman wrote in her poem at the end of her article:  “Deborah Moody haunts me / a figure veiled by time.”

This house is believed to be Lady Moody's Gravesend home.

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The Story of a Farm 2

I never realized how difficult researching a plot of land could be.  Land is sold, divided, and pieces put together in a patchwork.  It also appears that not all land surveys were accurate and people left land in their wills that they did not own.  It appears that Lavica Brock only obtained the land after a land disagreement.  In the Auditor’s Copy of the land and tax records for Greene County in the year 1881, there is a lot of crossing out and rewriting.  In 1881 on Lavica Brock’s entry it gives a different amount of land that is crossed out, and written the correct acreage in pencil above.  It says “tax claim settled – deed for same filed Jan. 12, 1882 fee B. T. Farber.   For B. T. Farber’s entry, it is written in “settled by parties cert. filed Jan. 12, 1882.”  So what happened here?  In the 1877 entries, a slip of paper was glued in and it said “Ankeney and Lucas land” and “F. A. Brock has left = of his own 6007” and in ditto marks below “not his own = 1446.”  6007 and 1446 refer to the original plots of land from the Virginia Military Survery, which the property was carved from.  Between 1878 and 1880, it is unclear which parts of land are the ones that made up the property.  In 1879 it is under the names of B.T. Farber and C.L. Spencer, who are listed as “assignee of F. A. Brock,” and after the valuation numbers appears “fr. Ann Lucas.”  In the 1880 listing, C. L. Spencer gives a certificate for “F. A. Brock land” to Lavica Brock.  Apparently B. T. Farber then settled with Lavica Brock the next year. 

What exactly happened?  There are so many names associated with this land in such a short amount of time.  From some genealogy research, it appears there were two F. A. Brocks.  The first one was an early settler in Ross Township.  The second one was his son.  The name Lavica appears in several different places – it was probably a name that was used consistently in the family.  She was probably the wife or daughter of one of the first Francis Brock’s sons, as his will names Sarah as his wife and does not mention a Lavica.  We’ll see what further research clarifies.

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The Story of a Farm

I’ve been researching the history of my grandpa’s farm as part of my research on midwestern farms for my History of Architecture paper.  Here is a little bit of the farm’s history, starting in 1890, since that was where I stopped in the archives on Friday.  The farm is located in Ross Township, Greene County, Ohio.  I researched the Auditor’s Copy of tax records.  In 1890, it was owned by Lavica Brock.  I’m not completely sure about her first name, since it was handwritten, but that was my best guess.    In 1899, the land was sold to Olliver De Haven.  Within a year, De Haven sold the farm to Henry Bateman.  In 1902, Bateman sold the land to Thomas Hennigen.  In 1905, Hennigen sold the land to A.R. and Margaret Sheeley.  For a while, the land was in the same family.  The farm was sold again in 1921 to John Shane, who in turn sold it the next year to Charles and Daniel Cummings.  Charles lived there until his death in the late 1950’s.  The farm was sold at auction to my grandparents, Ralph P. and Dorothy Leaming, in 1961.

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The Sultana

I just finished listening to an audio-book called Wicked River:  the Mississippi When it Last Ran Wild by Lee Sandlin.  I learned so many interesting things, but it reminded me chiefly of an event that I had heard about, but had put in the back of my mind:  the explosion of the Sultana on April 27, 1865.  It is one of those tragic events that has been largely forgotten.  The Sultana was a steamboat that traveled the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and was built in Cincinnati in 1863.  As many steamboats of its day, it had problems with its boilers.  It brought the news of Lincoln’s assassination down the Mississippi, and picked up Union soldiers at Vicksburg on April 24, 1865.  Many of these soldiers were Prisoners of War from such horrible camps as Andersonville and Cahaba.  The boat was extremely crowded, carrying 2,400 passengers, when it was only supposed to carry 376.  Many of the soldiers were camped out on its decks.  At 2 AM on the morning of April 27, 1865, the boilers exploded.  No complete figures are known, but it is estimated that 1,800 of the 2,400 aboard were killed.  More were killed from the explosion of the Sultana than the sinking of the Titanic.  Those who died were killed by scalding steam and water from the boilers, the burning of the ship, drowning in the river, and hypothermia.  Many died later from their wounds and exposure. 

This has been largely forgotten in part due to Lincoln’s assassination occuring about the same time.  Apparently it was not even that big of a news item at the time.  The one thing I have a hard time fathoming is to imagine surviving a prison such as Andersonville, only to be killed on the Sultana.  There were men who survived both amazingly.  I found one genealogy related website where a woman recorded the story of her ancestor who survived both Cahaba prison and the Sultana.  Another thing to note is how many of those on the Sultana were from Ohio regiments.  They have largely been forgotten in Ohio too.  

The Mississsippi has changed course since 1865, and the wreck of the Sultana is underground north of Memphis, Tennessee.  It has been located by archaeologists, but I could not find out if any further excavations have been done.

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Controversial History

A couple of weeks ago a friend and I went to the Ohio Historical Center to see a temporary exhibit called “Controversy:  Pieces You Don’t Normally See.”  On exhibit were five controversial items:  a Klu Klux Klan robe, the electric chair from the old Ohio Penitentiary, a sheepskin condom, a crib-bed cage used to restrain patients from a state mental institution, and a mitt used to keep children from sucking their thumbs.  Each item was display in its own little area, so only one object can be seen at a time.  Each object was on display so it could be viewed all the way around, with lights focused on each object.  The walls were dark gray, and each object had a little sign telling what the item was, where it came from, and when it was made or used.  The walls and stands were all dark gray. 

At the end of the exhibit, images of each item were on overhead projectors and visitors could write comments about them.  On the wall above the projections was a Benjamin Disraeli quote, which I believe was this:  “Circumstances are beyond human control, but our conduct is in our own power.”  There were also scrapbooks in this room that gave more context for each item, and there were postcards for visitors to write their comments on the exhibit and hang up on a clothesline.  Once you stepped out of the room,  there were many little cone-shaped viewers that had different things in them.  I remember one I looked at said something like “Is this part of Ohio’s history?” 

This exhibit is an interesting concept.  I think it worked well, and it is a good way to get people thinking about history.  Many people think that history is a linear projection, where progress is always being made, while many think everything was better in the past.  The exhibit definitely shatters the idea that everything was better in the past.  Some items demonstrated that some things that we think of as modern, such as the debate about birth control, are not new.  I think the only thing I wish was demonstrated more is that history is not always a tale of progress and things always improve over time.  One example would be Nadir of Race Relations from around 1880 up to around 1940.  It is an uncomfortable idea that things do not always get better in history, and I still find it disconcerting, and frankly, rather scary.  I think the Benjamin Disraeli quote is rather fitting though, “Circumstances are beyond human control, but our conduct is in our own power.”

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