All posts by Molly C.

Frank Owen and Baltimore’s straw hat boom

Sepia Saturday 411: Fourth in a series about my Welsh immigrant great grandfather Francis Hugh Owen, who married into the Irish Dempsey family in Baltimore, Maryland.

According to the 1900 U.S. census of Baltimore City, Baltimore, Maryland, my Welsh immigrant great grandfather Frank Owen worked as a clerk in a straw hat factory.

And this was his career for much of his life according to Frank’s listing in the Baltimore name-and-address city directories that predated phone books.

A sea of straw hats at the Democratic National Convention in Baltimore (1912). The demand for straw hats in the hot, humid Mid-Atlantic region fueled a manufacturing boom in Baltimore that supported my great grandfather Frank Owen and his growing family.  By: The Library of Congress

“What kind of job is that?” I thought. “How could the manufacture of straw hats possibly provide a substantial enough income for my ancestor to raise a family on?”

Well, soon enough I discovered that straw hats were a very big deal in Baltimore during Frank’s working years.

Straw Hat Season

Anyone who has lived in the Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. knows that summers can be brutal — unbearably hot and maddeningly humid for months on end.

Now imagine a city like Baltimore with lots of people, traffic, large buildings retaining heat and, in the late 1800s, no air conditioning or sunscreen — and its not hard to see how the straw hat craze began there soon after the end of the U.S. Civil War.

A congressman and delegate shake hands at the Democratic National Convention in Baltimore (1912). These two men, and a third behind them, wear the types of hats produced in the heyday of Baltimore’s straw hat boom. My ancestor Frank Owen worked as a clerk at a Baltimore straw hat factory.  By: The Library of Congress

Soon enough, May 15 became known as Straw Hat Day — opening an annual season that lasted until Sept. 15. Hot felt hats were packed away and out came lighter, well-ventilated headwear to stave off the sun’s penetrating rays (see photos here).

Turns out my great grandfather Frank Owen — who appears as a clerk, shipping clerk or hatter in federal censuses and city directories — was right in the thick of the Baltimore straw hat boom.

“But where exactly did he work?” I wondered.

The Big Three

In a 1997 Baltimore Sun article, reporter Fred Rasmussen wrote that, “During the 1870s, three concerns, which came to dominate local straw-hat making, were founded in Baltimore.”

They were Brigham-Hopkins Co., M.S. Levy and Townsend-Grace Co. — the big three in an industry that employed thousands of workers, according to Rasmussen:

The straw-hat business boomed from 1890, when 1,100 people were employed in hat making, until the mid-1920s, when more than 2,300 workers turned out 3 million straw hats annually. It was common for several generations of the same family to work in the same hat-making factory.

I wondered whether Frank’s home addresses in Baltimore city directories and censuses — along with the locations of the three largest hat manufacturers — might help me narrow down which firm he was employed by.

So I plotted them on an interactive map — which you will see in the next post.

Up next: Frank Owen’s Baltimore homes. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2018 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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1900-1920: Frank Owen’s Baltimore family

Sepia Saturday 410: Third in a series about my Welsh immigrant great grandfather Francis Hugh Owen, who married into the Irish Dempsey family in Baltimore, Maryland.

The 1900 U.S. census of Baltimore City, Baltimore, Md., is the first in which I have found my Welsh immigrant great grandfather Francis Hugh “Frank” Owen and his family — and by then he had been in the country more than 12 years and was married with children.

http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2007683533/
Baltimore street scene showing the Lubins Building and business district (circa 1910). Horse-drawn carts, streetcars and hats worn by all the men  — these provided sources of work for my great-grandfather Frank Owen, some of his children and his Dempsey in-laws. Source: Library of Congress

At the time, Baltimore City had a population of roughly 500,000 and was the sixth largest city in the U.S. — a bustling cauldron of opportunity and challenge for a Welsh working-class immigrant with a relatively young family.

The Owen family’s 1900 federal census enumeration is excerpted in the table below. My great-grandparents likely wed in 1888, since they had been married 12 years. Highlighted is the entry of their first-born child — my grandmother Mary Frances (Owen) Charboneau.

1900 U.S. Census Enumeration of Frank and Elizabeth (Dempsey) Owen – 428 Govane Ave., Baltimore City, Baltimore, Md. Source: FamilySearch.org
No. Name Reln. DOB Age Married Job
27 Frank C. Owen Head Dec. 1856 43 M 12 yrs. Clerk, Straw Hat Factory
28 Elizabeth Wife Feb. 1875 35 M 12 yrs. Mother of 6 children
29 Mary Dau. March 1889 11 S At school
30 Arthur Son Feb. 1891 9 S At school
31 Charlotte Dau Jan. 1893 7 S At school
32 Catherine Dau March 1895 5 S
33 Frank Son Feb. 1897 3 S
34 Evan T. Son Jan. 1899 1 S

The next two decades

By the time of the 1910 U.S. census, Frank and Elizabeth were married 22 years and had relocated their family to 1518 Henry St. Frank was a Shipping Clerk at the straw hat factory.

There were also four more children in the Owen household: Dorothy S. and William L. (both born in 1901, apparently twins), Joseph C. (born in 1904) and John, the baby, (born in 1908). Ten children altogether!

During the 1920 U.S. census the Owen family lived at 424 Stricker St., and my great-grandfather Frank, 65, was working as a railroad watchman — perhaps a less taxing job for an older worker nearing retirement.

Elizabeth C. was 52, and only four children — Arthur T., 28, (a street car conductor), Katherine G., 23,  (a men’s hat trimmer), Joseph T., 16, (a grocery clerk) and John W., 12 — were still at home. They also had two boarders, possibly for supplemental income.

In intriguing job

My great grandfather was a clerk for most of his working life — and I have long been intrigued by his job at the “straw hat factory.”

Frank even listed himself as a “hatter” in several Baltimore name-and-address city directories — and the work must have paid enough to support the large Owen household.

Yet his job somehow never sounded like an impressive calling — at least not until I started researching for this blog post.

It turns out that straw hats were a very big deal in Baltimore City for quite a number of years — and my great grandfather Frank Owen was right in there during the hey-day of Baltimore’s straw hat boom.

More on this in the next post. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2018 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Late 1800s: Frank Owen leaves Wales for the U.S.

Sepia Saturday 409Second in a series about my Welsh immigrant great grandfather Francis Hugh Owen, who married into the Irish Dempsey family in Baltimore, Maryland.

My Welsh immigrant great grandfather Francis Hugh “Frank” Owen left Wales in the late 1800s and ended up in Baltimore City, Maryland — probably debarking at Locust Point, which was the city’s deep-water port of entry after 1850.

From there, new arrivals could board trains carrying them further west — or stay and take their chances in the big city, which is what my ancestor did.

http://www.mobtown.com/pointofentry.html
Locust Point, Baltimore City, Maryland (circa mid-1800s). Trains at the pier awaited immigrants traveling further west. However, my ancestor Frank Owen decided to stay in Baltimore. Image: www.mobtown.com

When did he emigrate?

Exactly when Frank made his fateful trip is unclear — but it appears he arrived in Baltimore on the cusp of the hard-to-document period between the 1880 and 1900 U.S. federal censuses.

I have not yet found him in Baltimore City’s 1880 federal census. And Frank’s immigration year, as well as his age, varies in later Baltimore federal census returns that asked about immigration and citizenship status — the only sources for this information I have located so far.

 Francis Hugh “Frank” Owen’s Immigration Details –  Excerpted from U.S. Censuses of Baltimore City, Md. – Source: FamilySearch.org
Census Year Age Immigration year Citizenship
 1910  50  1884 Not Naturalized
 1920  60  1879 Naturalized 1886
 1930  75  1883 Naturalized
 1940  89 Foreign born, American at birth

Why did he leave Wales?

I wondered what was going on in Wales that may have precipitated Frank’s departure from his homeland during the 1879-1884 window shown in the U.S. censuses.

Why would he leave the land of his proud people — the builders of Stonehenge who spoke one of the oldest surviving languages in Europe — to cast his lot in the U.S.?

https://www.bcpss.org/webapps/cmsmain/webui/institution/images/MDHS?sortDir=ASCENDING&showAll=true&subaction=view&action=frameset&uniq=qbdh2k&startIndex=0
Immigrants at Locust Point, Baltimore City, Md. (ca. 1904). My ancestor Frank Owen probably had a similar experience when he arrived from Wales in the late 1800s. Image: www.bcpss.org

I found an answer in a course module on OpenLearn Cymru: Free Learning from the Open University In Wales describing a population explosion in Wales around the time of Frank’s departure — and its demographic impact, which I have underlined:

In 1801 the population of Wales was 587,245; in 1851, 1,163,000; in 1901, 2,013,000. The nineteenth-century pattern, therefore, was for population to double in the first half century, and then to (almost) double again in the second half: this roughly reflected the pattern for Great Britain as a whole. For Wales, the most dramatic increase came at the end of our period. In the single decade from 1901 to 1911 the population of Wales increased by over 400,000 people. Wales thus, at least fully shared in the general nineteenth-century population explosion. It also experienced the general tendency for population to be redistributed: in the case of Wales this took the form of the balance of the population slipping towards the bottom.

An economic emigration

Although the population increase was linked to public health improvements — which brought a falling death rate and rising birth rate — it apparently also contributed to a move off the land in rural areas of Wales that began in roughly 1880.

These developments may have created a perfect storm of economic pressures on a Welsh young man like Frank — prompting him to board a ship to the U.S. in hopes of better fortunes than could be had by “slipping towards the bottom” back home.

Thus he landed in Baltimore City, Md., where soon enough he would marry into the Dempsey family and start a new life for himself.

More on Frank’s Baltimore family in the next post. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2018 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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St. David’s Day: Introducing Francis Hugh Owen from Wales

Sepia Saturday 408First  in a series about my Welsh immigrant great grandfather Francis Hugh Owen, who married into the Irish Dempsey family in Baltimore, Maryland. 

The past few years, I have blogged about my Irish Dempsey ancestors during March and the research breakthroughs of our cousins group on tracing our roots from North America back to Ireland — the perfect topic for St. Patrick’s Day.

So this year I’m turning the spotlight on a Dempsey in-law — my Welsh immigrant great grandfather Francis Hugh “Frank” Owen — because my Owen cousins have asked me to share more about him.

And what better day to begin than March 1 — St. David’s Day/Dydd Gŵyl Dewi — named for the patron saint of Wales.

http://www.images.walesdirectory.co.uk/images/1139/780/1139.jpg
Ruins of a castle in Denbigh/Dinbych, Wales. According to Owen family lore, Denbigh/Dinbych was the birthplace of my Welsh great-great grandfather Francis Hugh “Frank” Owen in 1863. Denbigh/Dinbych means “small fortress” in Welsh. Image: Walesdirectory.co.uk

An immigrant from North Wales

Alas, I have not yet done the concentrated research into Welsh records that would elicit Frank’s early story. However, family oral history –and a U.S. record I have found from his adult years in Baltimore, Md. — help narrow down his possible childhood home.

Frank was born on or about 18 Dec. 1863, according to his death certificate — for which his daughter Katherine (Owen) Negri was the informant. I say about because his age fluctuates in U.S. census returns throughout his adult years.

Owen family lore places his origins in Denbigh/Dinbych, Wales. And Frank’s enumeration in the 1940 U.S. Census of Baltimore City, Md.,  supports Denbigh as a possibility — giving “North Wales” as his birthplace. (Click to enlarge the map below and you will see Denbigh in North Wales, quadrant 39.)

https://www.davidrumsey.com/luna/servlet/detail/RUMSEY~8~1~37021~1210075:Index-Map--Cary-s-New-Map-of-Englan?sort=Pub_Date%2CPub_List_No_InitialSort&qvq=q:0132.000;sort:Pub_Date%2CPub_List_No_InitialSort;lc:RUMSEY~8~1&mi=2&trs=48#
Map of Wales showing Denbigh in North Wales’ quadrant 39 southwest of Liverpool (1784). Oral history in the Owen family traces my ancestor Francis Hugh Owen to Denbigh/Dinbych, and a “North Wales” birthplace in his 1940 U.S. Census enumeration in Baltimore, Md., supports this possibility.  Source: David Rumsey Historical Map Collection

Denbigh/Dinbych in brief

The Imperial Gazetter of England and Wales (1874) describes Denbigh as a lovely area that survived ancient sieges and conflicts to grow and develop into the nineteenth century:

The town occupies a steep acclivity, overhung by a castle-crowned rock, on an affluent of the river Clwyd…The town, as seen from some distance, looks very picturesque; and has been thought to resemble Stirling in Scotland.

It comprises one long main street, smaller diverging streets, and a spacious market-place; contains many elegant residences; and has undergone great modern improvement…

The town has a head post-office, two banking-offices, and several chief inns; is a seat of sessions, and a polling place; and publishes 3 weekly Welsh newspapers…A general country trade, and some manufactures of gloves and shoes, are carried on.

Why emigrate to the U.S.?

More research is needed to definitively identify Denbigh/Dinbych as Frank’s hometown — or Denbighshire, which surrounds it, as his home county.

Nevertheless, the description above provides a charming snapshot of North Wales around the time of Frank’s emigration to the U.S. in the late 1800s.

So the question arises: Why would my great grandfather Frank Owen leave such a seemingly idyllic setting?

More on this in the next post. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2018 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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1888: Pension Board examines Arthur Bull for a pension increase

Sepia Saturday 407: Seventh in a series on my Union Army great-great grandfather Arthur Bull and his final years in Salamanca, Cattaraugus County, N.Y.

On a wintry 26 Dec. 1888, my great-great grandfather Arthur Bull, 57, was examined by U.S. Pension Board physicians in Olean, Cattaraugus, N.Y., in connection with his request for an increase in his Union Army pension for war-related illness.

Winter in Cattaraugus County, N.Y. During the 1888 holiday season, my great-great grandfather was examined by Pension Board physicians  in Olean, N.Y., in connection with his request for a pension increase. By: Seabamirum

The examination took place at the end of a year of significant changes in the Salamanca household of my ancestors Arthur and Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull. Mary’s mother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee had passed in January and their daughter Jessie married Sidney Banton in May.

By the time Arthur applied in August for an increased pension — because he cold no longer work even part time — only their daughter Alice, 11, and son Waples, 10, were still at home.

 A credentialed board

Examining Pension Board physicians were sometimes Civil War veterans themselves, and thus familiar with war-related complaints. Such was the case with at least one of Arthur Bull’s examiners, Board President John S. Eddy, M.D.

In the 1890 United States Census of Union Veterans and Widows of the Civil War, Dr. Eddy reported that he served as an assistant surgeon with the 12th N.Y Infantry from Oct. 1862 to June 1863.

Surgeon’s Certificate for Arthur Bull’s examination for a pension increase (1888). At least one physician on the examining panel was a Union Army veteran. Arthur was determined to be permanently disabled by war-related disease of the heart.  Photo: Molly Charboneau

A finding of permanent disability

Eddy and a panel of two others took this statement from Arthur, who was described as 5 feet 7 inches tall inches tall, weighing 157 pounds and age 57:

The heart is very irregular, and feels as if something were grasping it. It also pains a great deal. Has shortness of breath. has a pain through the right lung a good deal of the time, coughs at night.

This is followed by sobering notes from Arthur’s physical examination. They indicate that, while his respiration appeared normal, his heartbeat was characterized by a “soft flowing murmur…very intermittent…so much so that it is impossible to count the pulse.”

Stating that Arthur had “Disability in a permanent degree equal to the loss of a hand or foot” due to his war-related irritable heart, the Board made the following recommendation:

From the existing conditions and the history of this claimant, as stated by himself, it is, in our judgement, probable that the disability was incurred in the service as he claims, and that it has not been prolonged or aggravated by vicious habits. He is, in our opinion, entitled to a 3rd Grade rating for disability caused by Disease of the heart.

Arthur finally prevails

Arthur was not alone. According to an 1888 Commission of Pensions Report to Congress, 25,994 Union pensioners were classified as disabled from war-related heart disease between 1862 and mid-1888.

The Olean, N.Y.,  Board signed off on the Surgeon’s Certificate (shown above) on 31 Dec. 1888, and it was received at the U.S. Eastern Pension Office on 11 Jan. 1889.

Fortunately, this time my ancestor did not have to wait long for a decision. On 4 Feb. 1889, the U.S. Pension Board approved an increase in Arthur Bull’s pension to $17 a month commencing on 26 Dec. 1888.

There will be more on Arthur and his family in future posts. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

Up next: Starting on March 1 — St. David’s Day — a new series on my Welsh immigrant great grandfather Francis Hugh “Frank” Owen of Baltimore City, Maryland.  

© 2018 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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