An Englishman in a Complicated American Life

A Note to My Readers: In furthering my knowledge of my paternal 2nd great grandfather, David Penird (1830-1901), a London born Englishman who migrated to the United States around 1850 and settled in Cayuga County, New York, I began to look at where he spent a good deal of his energy and time. I started with the task of writing a biographical profile with the facts. First I had to embrace the fact that over the decades, what eventually became the surname Penird was morphed many times from Pennard to Penard to Peniard and countless odd transcriptions and at last settling on Penird.

Upon his arrival in America, David immediately married 16 year old Elizabeth White of Auburn and soon after the couple had twin girls, Lucy Jennie and Mary Elizabeth. Elizabeth died in 1852 leaving David with the infant girls who had not yet celebrated their first birthday. On May 21, 1854, David married Martha D. Colwell of Summerhill in Union Springs and the pair took up Lucy Jennie and their own infant daughter, Ida Mae and moved to Cherry Valley, Illinois in 1856, leaving little Mary Elizabeth with her maternal grandmother in Auburn.

During their attempt at farming in Illinois two more children were born to the Penirds –sons John and George. While it is unclear what the circumstances were, a legal notice in the January 1st, 1861 issue of the Rock River (Illinois) Democrat reported the proceedings of the Winnebago County Board of Supervisors.

ROCKFORD, Dec. 3d, 1860.
Resolved. That Geo W. Miller be allowed the sum of Forty Dollars, for care of Lucy Penird, and for sending said Lucy Penird to her friends in Auburn New York, and the Clerk of this Board is hereby directed to draw an order on the Treasurer for the amount.
Resolved. That Burnap & Harvey, attorneys be allowed the sum of twenty-five dollars for their services in the case of U. D. Meacham, States Attorney, against David Penird, and the Clerk of this Board is hereby directed to draw an order on the Treasurer for the amount.

Lucy Jennie was sent to live with her mother’s sister, Olive White Arnold who had migrated to Wisconsin where Lucy continued to live, marry Horatio Theodore Harroun and raise six children. Between the time Mary Elizabeth was 14 and living with her grandmother in Auburn in 1865 until her marriage to William C. Heard on January 19, 1880 at the age of 29 in Bayonne, New Jersey I lost track of Mary Elizabeth.
It is clear, however, that the twin Penird girls – however far flung – and their half-siblings kept contact and indeed were named as heirs in their half-brother, George’s 1927 will.

By the spring of 1861, the Penirds were back in Summerhill, where Martha gave birth in May to my great grandfather, William J. Penird. David enlisted to fight in Mr. Lincoln’s War on November 16, 1861, mustering in with the newly formed 75th regiment out of Cayuga County. When his first duty was completed, he re-enlisted on January 24, 1864, collecting a bounty of $300 and was again in the throes of battle bivouacked in Florida and Louisiana, fighting at the Battle of Sabine Cross Roads and mustering out in Savannah, Georgia on August 21, 1865. He mustered out with the rank of Sergeant having lost all of his teeth as a result of continuous vomiting brought on by typhoid fever. He had suffered the travails of typhoid alongside his son’s father-in-law, Samuel French, a Summerhill farmer, who died of the disease in the hospital at Camp Dwight in Louisiana.

1875 Summerhill Map

1875 Summerhill Map

Returning home, David found his pious and competent wife Martha had become a good farmer owning several acres in Summerhill and living on her farm along Lick Road. By the late 1870’s he was itching for adventure and good fortune, so he scooped up my teenage great grandfather, William, and headed for Deadwood City in the Dakota Territories. They are both enumerated in the 1880 Federal census living in Deadwood as laborers next to Dr. F. W. Wilson and the barber shop run by E. R. Sims. As I read into the history of Deadwood, I came to understand that former Civil War soldiers banded together and headed to Deadwood to seek their fortune after the devastating effects of the war on the economy. By December of 1880, William was back in Summerhill when he married his Summerhill sweetheart, my great grandmother, Emogene Lillian Case.

The aging David settled in Auburn with Martha though she kept control of the farm in Summerhill for decades. David had learned about resources…scrap material to be exact…in his duties as supply sergeant in the old 75th and in the mineral mining community of Deadwood and began to build what is indelicately called ‘the junk business’. His eldest son, John had managed the Summerhill farm and as a family story told by his descendants relates, he was told to stay away from the mills and the shops in Auburn as they were hotbeds of tuberculosis. It did not save him as luck would have it. He died of the disease contracted in the plagued community of Summerhill in 1888 at the age of 31 just four years after his older sister, Ida. She, too, was lost to ‘consumption’ in Summerhill when she was 29.

Auburn became the center of the family’s activities as the scrap business boomed.  David’s remaining sons, George W.Auburn Weekly Auburnian May 1893 Coy and Penird New Address and William J. both became involved with their father’s enterprise. In the year 1888 after his older brother John’s death, George became the head of the business first partnering with Nehemiah Coy to form the company of Coy and Penird with offices in Ithaca and Auburn.  As George matured into his role and became politically active in Auburn as Third Ward Supervisor,  David gradually found other avenues for his remaining energy.  The Grand Army of the Republic and The Order of the Sons of St. George and a brief fling at local politics.

Though I never found evidence of David becoming a naturalized citizen, I did find him involved on the periphery of the Independent Labor Party in 1891. But the majority of his time was devoted to his brothers-in-arms and his fellow English ex-pats. He is found marching in parades and dining at banquets, organizing the 11th annual reunion of the ‘Old 75th” in 1891 in Auburn. More marching and dining and conventions and fund-raising for the General Gordon Lodge, No. 211 of the Order of the sons of St. George and serving as one of its Trustees in his 60’s. He continued to be an ‘agent’ and ‘peddler’ for Coy and Penird until finally the family set up residence and shop at 21 – 23 Perrine Street where George had built a large warehouse and arranged to have the railroad run a side track. Over the decades David had been listed as living in various locations…Martha in others.  In his man’s world of the time, he favored their company and the social events, but Martha kept to her sewing circles and managing her Summerhill property.  David is buried alongside Martha in Groton Rural Cemetery, but the pair seemed to live very different and individual lives after he returned from his service in the Civil War.

The Order of the Sons of St. George

Order of the Sons of St. George.  David Penird is seated, far left

Order of the Sons of St. George. David Penird is seated, far left

I had all manner of records about David’s involvement in the Grand Army of the Republic, but not the Order of the Sons of St. George. Could this very English affiliation tell me more about David other than the doings of his family and business activities?

Oh yes, indeed, what was already complicated, sometimes uncomfortable and oddball became colorful, if not downright boisterous.

I found that the Order’s motto was (and is) “Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense”, an Anglo-Norman phrase that translates “Evil unto him who thinks evil of it” or “Shame upon him who thinks evil of it”. Historians attribute the phrase to the Most Noble Order of the Garter established in 1348 and its founder, King Edward III of England. The Most Noble Order of the Garter is the highest order of chivalry and is dedicated to St. George, England’s patron saint. It is the world’s oldest national order of knighthood in continuous existence.

The Order of Sons of St. George was first established as a cultural and benevolent society in 1871 by English emigrants living in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Some of the literature hints at some violence between the English born mine owners and officials in the area perpetrated by the secret society of the Irish Catholic group the “Molly McGuires” and thus the Order’s formation as protection.

As time moved on, the Order of the Sons of St. George evolved into an ethnic fraternal society to benefit Englishmen, their sons and grandsons, living in the United States. Sick and death benefits were offered to all members and the social activities such as dances, picnics and dinners were part of lodge activities. Membership was limited to first, second and third generation Englishmen. A separate organization…an auxiliary for females…was called the Daughters of St. George.

In its prime over 600 lodges existed in North America with a membership of 45, 000, but as insurance companies took over the benefit market, the need for membership in a benevolent society for financial security became less of a necessity.  As the migration from England diminished and the generations became absorbed into American life and culture, the desire to belong to a heritage society was lost on them. Though few, lodges still exist today in the U.S. and in fact, in England as well and celebrate the history and observe the traditions of the Order.

My paternal great great grandfather was a trustee in the General Gordon Lodge, Order of the Sons of St. George in Auburn, New York and if there was an event, he was there. In the 1900 Auburn Directory (Lamey), the lodges are listed.

Sons of St George, (Gen Gordon Lodge)–Organized June 21, 1886. Meetings held at St George’s Hall, over 8 Genesee St, first and third Wednesday evenings of each month. Headley Tutton, W P; Charles Spencer, Sec’y; James Williamson, Treas.
Daughters of St George, (Red Rose Lodge No. 112)–Organized March 10, 1897. Meets alternate Wednesday evenings at American Hall, over 145 Genesee St. Mrs. Georgia Kober, W P; May Sandham, W V P; Mrs Elizabeth Kerslake, Sec’y; Mrs Ada Williams, Treas.

General Gordon Lodge, No. 211

From its inception in June 21, 1886, Auburn’s General Gordon Lodge, held scores of events to raise money for the benefit of its members. According to Lodge Comptroller, Ernest Hunt, in a speech given in 1913, Auburn’s lodge was formed out of compassion for the plight of a fellow Englishman.

When a young Englishman, who had not friends or relatives in this country, came to Auburn and succeeded in finding employment as an engineer at Stalker’s mill, a position for which he had no training and as a result a boiler exploded, wrecking the building and killing him, it became necessary for the city of Auburn to arrange for his burial. After some time it became known or rumored that he had not been given proper burial, but that the coffin provided was not long enough for the body and consequently the undertaker had crowded the corpse into its receptacle. This aroused much indignation among the Englishmen, with the result that a meeting was called and arrangements made for a proper burial. From this incident originated the lodge of the Sons of St. George with membership of 350 members.

Headquartered at St. George’s Hall on Water Street, the organization held gatherings there that were strictly for men only. In 1891 the Lodge celebrated the anniversary of General Gordon’s birthday by giving an old English dinner. David was one of its organizers.

All formality was laid aside. The company was decidedly ‘stag’. So happily and smoothly did each event succeed the other that there was scarcely time to think of the absent fairs sex although toasts to their health were drank and their praises echoed in the songs and speeches of the evening. The spacious lodge room was turned into a banquet hall. The tables, heavily laden with all that goes to make up and old English dinner, greeted the merry party as they filed into the hall and took their seats at the table. There were over eighty in all, including the members of the order and their guests. Mrs. C. C. Lynch served as substantial and wholesome a dinner as any Englishman could desire. She was the recipient of compliments from all sides for her Old English plumb pudding with brandy sauce which was disposed of with relish. The rest of the menu was in keeping with the occasion. The dinner was served from 8 to 11 o’clock when the feast of reason followed. George Salvage filled most acceptably the position of toast master. The toasts were drank with a hearty cheer and the sparkling wine which flowed freely brought with it good cheer, witty speeches and merry songs. The first toast of the evening was to Queen Victoria of England and President Harrison of the United States.

The party broke up in the early hour of the morning with the best of good fellowship after singing several old English songs. All agreed that the anniversary of ’91, was one of the most enjoyable events in the history of the organization.

When David died on August 12, 1901, the Lodge gathered at his Perrine Street home to honor their brother and see him off to ‘the higher plain’. I imagine there were speeches and toasts…many speeches and many toasts ‘which flowed freely’ bringing with it good cheer, witty speeches and merry songs in the manner of all of their gatherings when he walked among them.

Author’s Note: I knew so little about my father’s mother, Sarah Leonie Penird Martin Merithew Palmer. She died before I was five and I have but one memory of her in her little brick house on Ross Place…and her curio cabinet full of knickknacks and memorabilia. While the adults talked, I pressed my nose to the glass examining the riot of things that belonged to her. She who knew so much about David Penird…she who belonged to the ladies auxiliary of the Sons of Union Volunteers. She who went to England just before World War II broke out to explore her grandfather’s English roots and who had to sail abruptly back in 1937 on the S. S. Aquitania to avoid “the unsettled conditions in Europe”.

The genealogist’s lament.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

http://www.facebook.com/thegenealogistsinkwell

 

One thought on “An Englishman in a Complicated American Life

  1. A great job of research and writing it up so that others would be interested to read it. I lived and worked in Auburn for a few years. The Finger Lakes are beautiful and a great place to live or visit.

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