Tag Archives: Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull

Some Leatherstocking locales

The part of New York State popularly known as the Central-Leatherstocking Region encompasses several counties — Schoharie, Broome and Oneida — where my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull and my other Bull ancestors worked as leather tanners during the 19th century.

http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47d9-ad3a-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
Open air tannery (1860-1920). My great, great grandfather Arthur Bull worked as a leather tanner before joining the Union Army during the U.S. Civil War. He resumed this work at war’s end, and his family’s frequent moves appear to have been work-related. Photo: New York Public Library Digital Collections

This made me curious: What was the tanning industry like back then? And were there work-related reasons why Arthur Bull and his family relocated so frequently, both before and after the U.S. Civil War?

In the 1800s, the tanning trade required a location with adequate water power, good transportation to bring in animal hides, and enough hemlock and oak trees for the requisite tannin to process those hides into leather.

The Catskills area bordering New York’s Hudson River — where Arthur Bull learned the tanning trade — had all of these in abundance in the early 19th century, as outlined in Augustus Ostow’s excellent environmental blog post The Catskill Tanning Industry.

The work itself was a physically demanding, grisly business, with open vats of fermenting hides — as depicted in the photo above — sending up quite a stench. Yet the need for domestically produced leather kept most Catskills tanneries active until the mid 1800s.

Eventually, however, forests became depleted through overuse by the tanning industry. That and an economic recession from 1833-1840 — which caused leather prices to plummet — likely prompted some Catskills tanners to pick up and relocate.

Moving for work

Among those who moved was the family of origin of my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull.  By 1855 they had left the Catskills area and settled in the Town of Conklin, Broome County, N.Y. — in the state’s Central-Leatherstocking Region — where Arthur, his father Jeremiah and brother Milo were listed as tanners in the 1855 New York State census.

This move was the first of many for Bull family members as they followed the booms and busts of the leather tanning trade to start over again and again in new, forested locations.

Judging by the birth locations and ages given for Arthur’s children in the 1865 New York State census for Town of Conklin, Broome County, N.Y, he and his wife Mary Elizbeth (Blakeslee) Bull lived in three different locations during the nine years between their 1856 marriage and the end of the U.S. Civil War:

  • Pennsylvania in 1858 [most likely in Susquehanna County just south of Broome County, N.Y.],
  • Delaware County, N.Y., in 1860, and then back to
  • Broome County, N.Y., until at least 1865.

Nor was that the end of their moves around the Empire State. More in the next post as I continue on the trail of my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull’s civilian life before and after the U.S. Civil War.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Catskill Mountains heritage

Embarking on a search for the birthplace of my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull — chronicled in the last four posts — unexpectedly led me to a new family history discovery: I have Catskill Mountains heritage going back at least five generations.

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My first visit to the Catskill Game Farm in Greene County, N.Y., in the early 1950s. My family traveled around and through the Catskill Mountains during my childhood years — all the while unaware of our ancestral connection to this beautiful, storied area. Photo by Norman J. Charboneau

That’s right. Some of my paternal forbears actually lived in the land of Rip Van Winkle — where the legendary Headless Horseman galloped in the dark of night through sleepy hollows beneath the towering Catskills peaks, frightening all in his path.

Well, okay. Maybe it wasn’t exactly like that.

But I am still thrilled to claim this beautiful, storied part of the Empire State as a newly discovered source of my ever expanding family tree.

And I have to wonder: How was this familial thread lost over the generations?

Particularly since my family of origin traveled around and through the Catskill Mountains during my childhood years — skirting the areas where my ancestor Arthur Bull was born and raised, yet all the while knowing nothing of his existence, never mind his story.

There seemed to be no end to these genealogical near misses.

As a young child I lived on Route 20 in Albany County, N.Y. — just 25 miles NNE of Arthur’s likely hometown of Windham, Greene County, N.Y. In the early 1950s my parents took me to the Catskill Game Farm, a giant petting zoo in Greene County, where I came face to face with free-roaming mules, sheep and deer — but remained blissfully unaware of any ancestral link to the area.

Later, my family lived near Binghamton, Broome County, N.Y. Most holidays, my parents, me, my two younger brothers and my two younger sisters — spanning the Baby Boom age range — would pile into our car and head northeast on Route 7 to visit my mom’s parents near Altamont, Albany County, N.Y.

Our boistrous station wagon — first a yellow and white Pontiac and later a blue Rambler with a push-button shift — passed north of the Catskills region and right through part of Schoharie County. En route we took in the small towns, the rolling farm country and the mountains in the distance — never imagining that our Bull ancestors lived nearby 100 years before.

To pass the time, we sang “Edelweiss” and other tunes in four part harmony (my mom was a music teacher). Or we played the alphabet game — keenly scanning the roadsides for a Quaker State Motor Oil sign, which was crucial for the letter Q.

We were a young family then, barreling down the road in a packed and noisy vehicle, heading into the future — more focused on the new leaves and branches of our family tree than on its ancient roots.

So is it any wonder we never knew there was a family link to the Catskills area that we passed? Weren’t the Bulls probably the same in the mid-1800s — preoccupied with living their lives in the Land in the Sky and not thinking about us, their future descendents?

Which is why I am gratified anew that genealogical prospecting — a dig with no artifacts, just a trail of documents leading back over generations — has unearthed my buried Catskill Mountains heritage and brought it back to life through the stories that those historic documents reveal.

Like the fact that I have leather tanners in my family tree. More on this in the next post.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Healing the wounds of war

My great, great grandfather Arthur Bull reentered civilian life as a U.S. Army Civil War veteran on 24 Aug. 1865 — undoubtedly grateful that he had survived and happy to be reunited with his family.

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The Returning Soldier, a monument on the grounds of a veterans home in Rocky Hill, Conn. My ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull, then a father of three, reentered civilian life as a U.S. Army Veteran on 24 August 1865 and returned home to his family in Conklin, Broome Co., N.Y. Image: Rocky Hill Historical Society

What little I know about my ancestor’s return home is contained in affidavits from family and  friends supporting his application, decades later, for a military pension.

Arthur’s brother-in-law William Whitney, of Binghamton, Broome Co., N.Y., filed one such affidavit on 30 Nov. 1885. He was married to Rhoda (Blakeslee) Whitney — the sister of Arthur’s wife Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull.

In his affidavit, Whitney described his memory of Arthur’s homecoming  — testimony labeled “Credibility good” by the claims examiner, who summarized it in his case notes as follows:

[Whitney] testifies that he has been well and personally acquainted with claimant [Arthur Bull] since 1861 and has personal knowledge that he returned from the army, in 1865, in a weak, emaciated condition, and suffering from what seemed to be heart trouble, with pain in the region of the heart, and with his lungs; had a cough and much trouble to get his breath…

U.S. Civil War pensions were among the few social programs supporting veterans of that war in their old age — and providing sustenance to their families. And government examiners were tasked with assuring that the claims were genuine.

In my great, great grandfather’s case, not only were there records of hospitalizations during his service with the 6th NY Heavy Artillery and of his post-war medical treatment, but also eyewitness testimony, like Whitney’s, from those who knew him well. Again, from the claims examiner’s notes:

…and he (affiant) saw claimant almost daily, from 1865 to 1875, and had personal knowledge that he complained of and suffered from these disabilities, and that he was — in affiant’s opinion — fully one-half disabled thereby for manual labor.

My ancestor Arthur Bull was a leather tanner by trade, a calling he resumed after the war, so the ability to do manual labor was essential to his livelihood.  Records in his pension file make clear that the wounds of war — in his case, heart and lung conditions — stayed with him long after the fighting ended.

Yet being back with family must have been a  healing balm. Arthur saw many productive years before applying for his Civil War pension. And he and Mary Elizabeth had many more children after the war. First among them was my great grandmother Eva May Bull, born on 24 July 1866 —  just over 10 months after Arthur came home.

More in the next post.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Returning home

When I learned that my ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull remained on duty until August 1865, I was disappointed that he did not get to march in the May 1865 Grand Review of the Armies in Washington, D.C., marking the end of the U.S. Civil War.

But it’s possible that my great, great grandfather’s homecoming was greeted in a more personal and spontaneous way than allowed for by the pomp of the huge, official Grand Review in the U.S. capitol.

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Home from the war (1863). My ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull mustered out on 24 Aug. 1865 and returned home to Conklin, Broome Co., N.Y. in early September. Image: Library of Congress

Sgt. William Thistleton, of my ancestor’s 6th New York Heavy Artillery regiment, wrote about his homecoming in his diary — and the stir created by returning soldiers as they marched through New York City to the armory where they were temporarily housed.

July 2nd …arrived at Pier (one) north river at 6 P.M. disembarked and marched up Broadway in “Column” by company to Grand Street down Grand to Center market and halted, we created quite an excitement on the march up from the Boat crowds congregating at different corners and cheering us vociferously our shell and shot torn colors were sufficient evidence that we had seen service and elicited hearty cheers at every step.

Sgt. Thistleton mustered out near Petersburg, Virginia, and was headed home to Eastchester, Westchester Co., N.Y. — just north of New York City. My ancestor mustered out near Washington, D.C., and may have taken a different route to his upstate home in Conklin, Broome Co., N.Y. But I am sure his homecoming was no less grandly received.

Broome County sent many young men into the Union Army. Though I have not yet found a notice about my great, great grandfather, the names of discharged soldiers were often published in the local newspaper to let loved ones, friends and neighbors know they were due home.

Sgt. Thistleton chronicled the final steps in mustering out — a process that took him just over two weeks to complete.

July 10th Company reported and tuned in arms and equipment at 11 a.m. July 12th reported again this afternoon and were engaged in running around. July 13th Discharged from the Service of the United States and Paid in full to date and this closses [sic] the record of Company “I” 6th New York Heavy Artillery.

My great, great grandfather mustered out on 24 August 1865, so he likely arrived home around 9 September 1865. Whether there were cheering crowds in the streets of Conklin or in the larger, nearby city of Binghamton, Broome Co., N.Y., I cannot say without further research.

But I am sure he was warmly welcomed home by the group that mattered most — my great, great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull and their children Emma, Carrie and Milo.

More on Arthur Bull’s return to civilian life in the next post.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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A fortuitous furlough

Last of three posts on researching my Union Army ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull in the U.S. Sanitary Commission (USSC) records

At the end of my first day researching my ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull of the 6th N.Y. Heavy Artillery in the U.S. Sanitary Commission records, a staff member placed before me a blue archival box containing manuscripts from the USSC Statistical Bureau archives 1861-1869.

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August 10, 1864: Morning Report of Sick and Wounded in the U.S. Army General Hospital at Elmira, N.Y. (footnoted in text below). Private Arthur T. Bull is one of seven soldiers listed as “furloughed” from the facility that day. Photo by Molly Charboneau

It was the last material for me to go through, and I wasn’t quite sure what the statistics collection would reveal about my Civil War ancestor. Where might my great, great grandfather’s name appear amidst so vast a collection of data?

Still, the skilled staff at the New York Public Library’s Manuscripts and Archives Division had already helped me find his entry in a Hospital Directory register — and they had pulled these records as well — so I hopefully opened Box 44 and began examining the folders inside.

This particular box was the first of 16 comprising the Statistical Bureau’s Hospital Reports 1863 Sep-1864 Nov, covering some of the months my ancestor was in hospital. It contained morning reports from hospitals for March-August 1864 in folders arranged alphabetically by location and hospital name.

Folder 5, with reports from Albany to Ft. Columbus in New York State, looked promising since my ancestor had spent time in De Camp and Elmira General Hospitals. So I pulled it out and began carefully leafing through the manuscripts one hospital at a time.

Alas, there was no listing for my great, great grandfather among the De Camp Hospital morning reports. But when I started to examine the reports for Elmira Hospital, there he was!

On a Morning Report of Sick and Wounded in the U.S. Army General Hospital at Elmira, N.Y. – a single page dated 10 August 1864 shown above1– Private Arthur T. Bull was one of seven soldiers listed as “furloughed” from the facility.

What a gratifying discovery.

My great, great grandfather was a family man – married with three young children – when he enlisted in the Union Army. Being far from family while fighting in some of the Civil War’s bloodiest battles – and during his recovery from wartime illness – cannot have been easy for him.

So I was relieved to learn from the USSC records that Arthur was transported to Elmira General Hospital, near his home – and that he was furloughed while there and could visit his family.

Finding him twice in this tremendous collection has inspired me to continue researching my Civil War ancestor in the USSC records — where I hope to learn more about his later hospitalizations and treatment near the Virginia battlefields.

More on this in future posts. For now, we return to my ancestor’s time on provost duty in Virginia during June 1865.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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