As I pondered today’s date wondering what needed to be done, what bills needed to be paid and other mundane thoughts, like a flashbang, my mind said today is your great grandmother’s birthday. Holy cow, let me think about that for a minute. I never knew her, being just shy of 6 months old when she died. But my mother and grandmother never let her memory die. She was spoken of often. Memories of other years when she was younger and more spry were discussed. I’m the last of the family who heard about her, from the people who knew her. I knew what I had to do. Let me introduce you to Rebecca Ellen Cole Chambers.
She was born Dec. 11, 1854 in
Cape, New Brunswick, a few miles
south of the small farming community of Dorchester,
NB, perched on an inlet on the Bay of Fundy. Her father was Edward Cole, a farmer and
later on, a ferryman. Her mother was Catherine Buck. They were married in 1841.
Rebecca was the 5th child born to them although three of the older
siblings died young, two as teenagers and the oldest, Capt. Ebenezer Cole,
Master of the William K. Chapman,
died at his father’s home at the age of 24. This left Rebecca as the 2nd
oldest living child. Lucinda, nine years older than Rebecca, was now the
oldest. Additionally, there was a younger brother and three younger sisters in
I asked my grandmother once what she knew of her mother’s childhood. Sadly, she knew very little. She said her mother didn’t talk much about her growing up years, but she had talked about going sledding on a hill near her home. Life was different then. Farming was hard work from sunrise to sunset. The women of the family cooked, cleaned, sewed and washed clothes by hand, so I guess there may not have been too many fun times to talk about. They did attend church when they could so there were some social activities connected to the church.
I’m not sure where or how Rebecca met my great-grandfather, Alexander Chambers, a Scotsman from
. When he was young,
his family moved to Wallace,
Nova Scotia Dorchester where the ship
building industry was in full bloom. He became a shipwright when old enough.
Becky and Alex were married Jul 17 1878 at .
My grandmother was born Nov 25 1880. At the time they lived in an old farmhouse
just down the road from Rebecca’s sister, Lucinda, who had married William
Buck, Master Mariner. Lucinda had a difficult and tragic life. By 1880, she had
given birth to six children, the oldest five having died by the time the 6th
child was born. Three of those children died on Jul 6, 14 and 16 1877 from diphtheria. Becky and Alex had a son, Percy, in Aug 1886. Dorchester Cape
William Buck was the Captain of the sloop Arabella. As a ‘coaster’ they visited major ports up and down the eastern seaboard. Alex joined Captain Buck’s crew as First Mate. It isn’t known how many voyages they made together on other ships. The Arabella was a fairly new and fast ship when they set off for NY in the fall of 1880. My grandmother recalled that someone came to the house to bring news that the tide was turning and that the Arabella would sail immediately. He kissed everyone good-bye, then headed to where his ship was docked. Rebecca and her two children walked to the top of the hill to watch them sail off.
They never saw the ship or the men again. The ship did make it to NYC and was fully loaded with coal to bring back home. Capt. Buck’s brother was on board an inbound ship and haled the Arabella as it was departing Long Island Sound. There was a fierce storm off
Cape Cod and they were advised to
turn back till it was over. Buck probably thought his new, fast ship could
outrun the storm and it was getting close to Christmas so why not make a run
Now Becky and her sister Lucinda both had children to feed and were both without husbands. There is no record of how the two sisters survived or if they were given any financial aid. Lucinda had a total of ten children but only three survived to adulthood. Even then her only son died when he was 26. Her two surviving daughters did marry and have families.
Tragedy would visit Becky once again. In Apr 1889, Percy came down with Scarlet Fever and died. Although she and Alvina (my grandmother) stayed in NB for a year or so they eventually packed up and moved to
. One of Becky’s
younger sisters had moved to Boston in 1886
and had married there. They stayed with Aunt Mame while Becky found work and a
place to live. She worked for a homeopathic Dr., cleaning his offices in East
Boston, MA . At that time the
land next to East Boston, a peninsula known as Boston , was being developed by several
different Drs. and the man Becky worked for was one of them. Dr. Lull was his
name and he played a minor role in the land development but through him, Becky
was able to purchase land. It is unsure how Becky managed financially through
all these tough times. One theory seems to hold the most valid probability.
Alex had no life insurance when he was lost at sea. However, his father, James
Chambers, was a ship builder and became quite well to do. It is believed that
he may have supported Becky for quite a few years. He did make a trip to Winthrop to visit her.
Who knows what transpired during that visit. James and his wife moved to NJ to
be closer to two of their children. James had lived in Winthrop
where he was a ship builder at the time the ‘iron’ ships were being built. He
then followed his son, William, to Bath ME where he
continued to build ships. James died in 1913. It is possible he left a sum of
money to Becky at that time. For a widowed mother, at the age of 33, she
managed to acquire four lots of land in Jersey
by the time she was 44. Winthrop
She never married again. My grandmother said there was always a ray of hope that Alex had somehow survived and would find them some day. My grandmother got married and started raising her family. By now, Becky was called Nana, owned her own two-decker house where she rented out the 2nd floor. One year, she was hired as a companion to make an automobile trip to
. I marveled at
this given the vintage of the cars in the 20’s, the lack of decent roads and
places to put up for the night. In the
mid-20’s she bought a camp in Cochituate on Dudley Pond. She owned that for the
next 15 years, where the family and all sorts of friends would gather on summer
Finally, she sold all her properties and together with my parents, they all lived with my grandparents. In the early 40’s, my parents were able to buy their own home and then everyone lived with them. Nana died on Jan 1 1944 having reached her 89th birthday. She is buried in the
. Winthrop Cemetery
Happy heavenly birthday, Nana.