A Note To My Readers: As my fellow genealogists know, you can spend as much time with extended family history as you do with your direct line. The siblings of our forebears often provide us with critical information for our research and insight as to the nature of our family members and the times in which they lived. Fortunately for some of us….one of these individuals was a hoarder, a snoop, a character of note in local doings or best of all, a sentimental soul who loved their own family history and passed it down before they, too, became part of yesteryear.
A few years ago, I was assembling what I could about the Frears…my paternal great great grandmother’s family. Initially it was a hodgepodge cobbled together from Ruth P. Heidgard’s 1968 publication, “The Freer family: the descendants of Hugo Freer, patentee of New Paltz, (Frear, Fraer, Frayer, Fryer, etc.” and research done with the help of the knowledgeable staff of the Huguenot Historical Society in New Paltz, NY and local historians in Ulster County. Like Ruth P. Heidgard’s genealogical effort, many of these publications are a huge undertaking and by nature are inaccurate in areas and incomplete in others. A base to work with for sure, but it behooves the wise researcher to validate their own work…generation to generation…family to family…person to person. It was, therefore, no surprise to me, to find that my great great grandmother, Harriett Myers Frear Martin was not noted in her original family. Indeed, only her three brothers – Samuel, John Lawrence Myers and William Henry Frear – were itemized in the book as offspring of Simeon J. Frear and Cornelia “Neeltje” Myers of Newark, Wayne County, New York.
Absent an extant family bible or a will itemizing heirs and property, it took me over a year of reading local New York State newspapers…noting business dealings, family affairs, visits and obituaries in Auburn, Union Springs, Newark, Binghamton and Buffalo while cross referencing online records in Indiana for son, Samuel Frear…to put the proof of Simeon and Cornelia’s complete family together. Finally I had the Frear girls properly in their place in family history…Elizabeth, Cornelia, Mary Ann, Harriet Myers (my GG Grandmother) and Phoebe Jane Frear. Along the way I spent time with the eight Frear children and their parents and through them I learned about the early rough and rowdy days along the Erie Canal, the terrible toll that tuberculosis would take on the Frears, the student life of the little Newark schoolhouse, the heyday of the port of Buffalo and the impact that the Civil War would have on three of the Frear men.
Throughout the process of solving the Frear family puzzle, I would run across a character and family story that would pull me up short. The big project was set aside and I would while away the time visiting…drifting into their time and world…comfortably seated on the front porch of a home on Newark’s Main Street, delicately fanning away the heat and a buzzing mosquito or two with my embroidered hankie…and chatting with Mrs. Judith O. Stansell Welch Frear.
Becoming MRS. FREAR
In 1825 Judith’s father-in-law, Simeon J. Frear, had moved his family from their Saratoga, New York home in the Hudson Valley to the little community of Lockville in Wayne County…later renamed Arcadia. Governor DeWitt’s “ditch” was completed in 1829 and the Frears and their neighbors celebrated the “Wedding of the Waters“. Although Simeon states he is a farmer in the 1850 census, he also plied trades that were typical along the canal.
At the age of 68 widowed “Old Daddy Frear” as he was called by the villagers, was caulking boats in the carpentry business of his sons, William Henry and John Lawrence Myers Frear .
John Lawrence Myers Frear had married young widow, Judith O. Stansell Welch on May 23, 1844 and along with her four year old son, Daniel, set up house on Main Street near the canal bridge. Like her husband, Judith was the child of a pioneer family. In fact the Stansells arrived in the Palmyra area in May of 1789 migrating from the Mohawk Valley region. Pioneer royalty if you will.
An able carpenter, John built carriages, repaired canal boats and built homes in Newark. In 1866 he was a successful viticulturist (grape grower) and winemaker. Opportunity was at the hand of every able body in Newark and the Frears took full advantage.
Judith became pregnant right away and in 1845 gave birth to their son, Charles Henry Frear. Son William Stansell Frear arrived in 1849 and was followed by John Milton Frear in 1854. Little Nellie came along in 1864 while her oldest brother, Charles, was serving in the Union Army as a bugler in the NYS Volunteers 2nd regiment Company F. Nellie would die in 1870 at the tender age of six.
The Frears would lose Cornelia Myers Frear, matriarch of their family, on November 10, 1853. Samuel Frear had moved to Indiana in the late 1830’s and his wife, Dolly Brown and their children were not part of the daily lives of the next generation in Newark. Though Judith’s only other brother-in-law, William Henry, was her husband’s business partner, William had a much lower profile in family and community life. He had married Harriet Bloomer and they and their children did not live long lives. It could be that tuberculosis took a toll on William’s family…like it did on his brother, Samuel’s family as well.
In her adult life Judith had been widowed, given birth to five children, lost her only daughter, sent Charles off to fight Johnnie Reb and ran her home with a firm Christian hand and heart. She sang in the choir and taught in the Sunday school of the little Methodist Church in Newark. There wasn’t a soul in Newark that didn’t know and respect the woman that they would call simply “Mrs. Frear”.
The Next Generation
When Judith’s son, Charles, came home from the war, he settled into his hometown and established Frear Brothers grocery with his brother, William, in 1869 and in addition served as the town clerk. That same year he married pretty Cornelia Brodt and they set up their household in Newark. Soon after, the couple had two sons of their own…Charles and Frederick.
After the brief retail partnership with Charles, William and youngest brother, John were apprenticing at clockmaker, S. J. Childs and in 1873 they left Wayne county to establish themselves as jewelers in the little village of Union Springs situated on Cayuga Lake and the city of Binghamton, New York. Eighty nine year old patriarch, Simeon, would die in 1878 and Judith O. Stansell Frear would someday pass on the dignity of being Mrs. Frear of Newark to her daughter-in-law. Or so she thought.
The year 1880 brought a shock to Judith’s…Mrs. Frear’s…ordered life. Charles’ wife, Cornelia had been obsessively attending the local opera house in nearby Palmyra…bitten and smitten…by the theater. Married life to Charles was strained because he suffered from chronic and debilitating diarrhea…an unfortunate and unpleasant souvenir of his Civil War service. Cornelia was a pretty, vivacious woman and it wasn’t long before she caught the eye of Henry Carlos “Nat” Blossom, a charismatic actor that performed at the Palmyra opera house. In no time Cornelia had packed up her boys and moved to Buffalo, New York and set up a boarding house for actors on 115 East Eagle Street. An advertisement in the New York Clipper made it clear that the Eagle Street boarding house was headquarters for Nat Blossom and his acting troupe. Nat was managing the Bunnel’s Museum in Buffalo.
It was another blow when Judith’s husband, John died in November of 1885 at the age of 72 of Bright’s disease and his brother, William followed not thirty days later, but her faith was her rock and she was a beloved elder in the village with a constant stream of visitors to her Main Street home. Charles and his mother were alone in Newark.
Charles was divorced by Cornelia in 1886 and she immediately married Nat Blossom…eight years her junior…and moved to Missouri with her sons where Nat and Cornelia owned a theater and Nat managed comedic actors…minstrel acts were his specialty. In 1900 Nat was counted in the Federal Census on board a railroad car as his residence in Fort Madison City in Iowa in the James LaPearl Show.
Charles went to Michigan with his half-brother, Daniel and became a major contractor builder in Grand Rapids finally to return permanently to New York State in 1905. He was not entirely well, but still an ebullient, social man.
With the help of his brother William, Charles took over the Hotel Astoria in Union Springs as proprietor. The hotel was renovated under his design and direction…a new cigar counter and a men’s lounge was added. A newfangled ice cream maker was installed…and Charles’ big yellow dog named Birney made the hotel a welcome destination for the folks who sought respite from the central New York summer heat.
William lived in Union Springs and enjoyed the visits of his mother. She would spend weeks with her son and his family…with frequent visits from her son, John of Binghamton. Though the family joy of the visits with her sons and William’s children, Pearl and Leo, was obvious by their frequency and length, she would eventually return to Newark and her treasured home of decades. It was called “Mrs. Frear’s house” years after she left the earth.
A Shock of Corn Fully Ripe
On Monday, May 19th, 1902, eighty-four year old, Judith O. Frear died in Union Springs at her son, William’s home. According to a Union Springs Advertiser obituary,
“The day before she died she sang “Rock of Ages Cleft for Me” and “Nearer My God to Thee,” carrying the tune and recalling the words. She was conscious to almost the last, and came to her end on earth like a shock of corn fully ripe”.
Among the out of town attendees was H. C. Martin of Auburn…Harriet Cornelia Martin, daughter of my great great grandmother, Harriet Myers Frear Martin. After the funeral services, Judith’s body was taken to Newark where she was laid to rest in the Frear family plot in a Methodist committal service “where many friends of earlier days were gathered”.
Normally, genealogists don’t quit the research when the last handful of dirt is tossed on the casket, the grave is filled in…the sod neatly set into the neighboring turf and the monument installed. There is unfinished business yet.
The Last Word
All during my research of the three generations of Frears in central New York and Indiana, I developed a sense the family dynamic and circumstances of the history of each individual. Outside of my own direct ancestors…none more dramatically played out than Judith O. Stansell Frear. She took her role as mother and head of the family to heart…even as her sons were mature men themselves. And she obviously wasn’t going to let a small thing like her death keep her from her role as Mrs. Frear, matriarch.
Fully one year and one month after her death, her will was admitted to probate. Along with the usual itemization of debts to satisfy, personal goods and real estate holdings, the names of the executors…her sons, William and John, and a description of the disbursement of the proceeds, the telling stipulation as to Charles’ share of her estate had the distinct ring of Judith’s iron hand.
One third of her will was to be divided equally between her sons Daniel Welch and Charles Frear. “The portion to the latter (Charles) is to be held in trust for his maintenance and is given to him on the express condition that he never lives with “Cornelia B., the woman he first married. In case he does live with “Cornelia B., then he shall receive but $100, and the remaining port of his one-sixth of the three parts is to be divided equally between the other three sons.” Judith left her grandchildren, Pearl and Leo the sum of $500 and $100 to only one of Charles’ son, Charles Lawrence. His son, Frederick was not provided for.
Charles was almost sixty years old when his mother died, never remarried and had little contact with his sons, Charles and Frederick who continued to live with their mother in Missouri when she married Nat Blossom. All was not bliss in Missouri as 51 year old Nat Blossom divorced Cornelia who was eight years his senior in 1905 in order to marry a 38 year old actress and songstress in his Vaudeville touring troupe, Nellie Rutledge.
Was there word before Judith’s death from her grandson, Charles Lawrence Frear, that his mother had regrets…that Nat was a philandering actor…which evidence clearly shows he was…and did Judith’s son, Charles continue to carry a torch for “Cornelia B.”, the mother of his sons, with thoughts of regaining her favor? Did that drive Mrs. Frear to incorporate such a stipulation in her will? And did the exclusion of Frederick by his grandmother mean she did not recognize him as “hers”? Or did he have unwavering and exclusive loyalty to his mother and seal his fate with his grandmother? Or was it simply a transcription error?
There was as much unsaid in Judith O. Frear’s will as was said. What we do know is the “why” of the stipulation of her son, Charles’ inheritance. “Cornelia B.” was NEVER to be passed the mantle of MRS. FREAR. But even the indomitable Judith O. Stansell Frear has her limits. Her former daughter-in-law reclaimed the name FREAR and is buried in IOOF Cemetery in Monett, Missouri as Cornelia Brodt FREAR.
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