Mary E. (Bull) Tamkins: The 1865 sandwich generation

Second in a series on my ancestor Arthur Bull’s parents and siblings at the end of the US Civil War (1865).

Locating early records pertaining to female ancestors is seldom easy. But those I have found on Mary E. (Bull) Tamkins — my ancestor Arthur Bull’s younger sister — reveal a young woman with many responsibilities during the Civil War era.

From a book of calisthenics for women (1864). Mary E. (Bull) Tamkins might have have needed these to keep in shape for her many duties: caring for two toddlers and her aging parents, and running a farm while her husband served in the Union Army during the US Civil War. By: Internet Archive Book Images
Illustration from a book of calisthenics (1864). Mary E. (Bull) Tamkins might have have needed these exercises to keep in shape for her many duties: caring for two toddlers and her aging parents, and running a farm while her husband served in the Union Army during the US Civil War. By: Internet Archive Book Images

The dutiful daughter

In the 1855 New York State census, Mary, 15, was enumerated as M. E. Bull in the household of her parents — Jeremiah and Mary Bull of Town of Conklin, Broome County, N.Y. Her brothers Arthur and Milo were also still living at home.

Five years later — according to 1860 US Census returns — brothers NorrisArthur and Milo had moved away for work and started their own families. Yet Mary E., 20, was still living at home with her parents in Conklin — about 13 miles southeast of Binghamton, N.Y.

Mary’s father — my great, great, great grandfather Jeremiah Bull — was 57 and required the assistance of a live-in farm hand, who was enumerated in their household. So Mary was probably tasked with whatever housekeeping duties her mother, 51, could not handle.

Mary marries the local butcher

The following year, however, Mary’s life took a new direction as she began a family of her own. According my notes from a Philadelphia Free Library research trip (later supported by a newspaper abstract), she married Edward C. Tamkins, a local butcher and farmer who was born in Dutchess County, N.Y., on 4 May 1861 in Great Bend, Susquehanna Co., Pa. — just across the border from Conklin, N.Y.

By the time the New York State census taker called on 8 June 1865, Mary E. (Bull) Tamkins, 24, and husband Edward, 25, had two children — Carrie, 3, and Norris, 21 months. Also living in their Conklin household were Mary’s parents –Jeremiah, 62, and Mary, 56 — neither of whom had an occupation listed.

So Mary was an early example of the “sandwich generation” — minding two toddlers while also keeping house for her aging parents. Nor were these the only responsibilities she shouldered.

A Union soldier’s wife

On 30 August 1864, Mary’s husband Edward C. Tamkins was called to war — serving in the Union Army as 1st Sergeant in Co. L of the 137th Regiment, New York Infantry. According to information from his N.Y. Civil War Muster Roll Abstract, Edward’s fighting unit took part in Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s march through Georgia — and he was hospitalized in January 1865 in Savannah.

This meant Mary had the added duties of a Civil War wife — taking care of the farm while her husband was away at war and worrying about what might become of him in the heat of battle. She likely relied on Edward’s town and county military bounties totaling $900 (about $13,500 today) to keep the household going.

Fortunately, Edward survived the war and was mustered out with his unit on 9 June 1865 at Bladensburg, Maryland — a couple months before my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull, who mustered out in August.  One can imagine Mary’s relief to have both her husband and brother return safely at the end of the US Civil War.

Still, I can’t help but wonder: Was she entirely pleased to have her husband take up part of the workload she’d been handling alone? Or was she a bit wistful about giving up some of the independent decision making she engaged in during his absence?

There will be more on Mary in future posts. For now we turn to  Arthur’s oldest brother Norris C. Bull  to see where he lived and worked in 1865.

To be continued.

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2 thoughts on “Mary E. (Bull) Tamkins: The 1865 sandwich generation”

  1. Got to believe our families were very close in the 1800s. The names of the towns were all names my mom used when talking about the old days. My gg grandfather Jeremiah Bull also served in the Civil War and moved from Conesville, N.Y. to Silver Lake, Pa. after the war to marry a Whitney. All this makes me believe the cousins somehow kept in touch. Also listed himself as a tanner when he filled out census. Happy Thanksgiving. Don B

    1. I believe you may be right. It’s not uncommon for families to share job leads and other details when they move to a new area. The Catskills became a tough place to get work for tanners in the mid-1800s. As I wrote in Some Leatherstocking locales, many relocated — and it looks like our ancestors were among them. Work prospects must have been better along New York’s Southern Tier and in northeastern Pennsylvania, since it appears they settled in there for a while. All the best, Molly

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