An Afternoon Down the Frear Rabbit Hole

My laptop has been slowing down lately. (Me, too.) I decided to do some clean up and hopefully solve the problem. Into the deep gray matter of the old gal and I found a significant number of downloaded files that had to go. Some with recognizable names. Some with the typical gibberish that required me to open them to decide to either rename them appropriately and move them to the proper folder OR delete them. I have been at it for hours now. Not so much because of the volume of files but because they are my research finds. Newspaper articles and documents and I HAD to read them.

Down the Rabbit Hole She Went

I went down the genealogy rabbit hole and am having the best time. Who wouldn’t enjoy re-reading old finds? It’s as if I went visiting old friends and was reminiscing over an ice cold lemonade. Genealogy friend, remember the time when I discovered my 2x great grandmother, Harriet Meyer Frear Martin had a sister Deborah Ann Frear? That was quite a delightful surprise, all right.

When Harriet died in 1887, her old hometown newspaper – the Newark Union in Wayne county, New York- published a death notice listing her siblings. Deceased and Living.

I knew about John Lawrence Frear and Phoebe Frear Keller and Cornelia Frear Bloomer, but not Deborah. When I found this little tidbit, I was off and running to learn about her. She had lived with Harriet and her family in Auburn for a short while and then, aging and widowed, went to Michigan to live with the youngest of the Frear siblings -Phoebe. Deborah died in Michigan and I was able to get her death certificate as well as Phoebe’s and compare it to Harriet’s NYS record. There they were…daughters of Simeon J. Frear and Cornelia Meyer (also spelled Myer and Meyers).

And Deborah left a small estate. Having no children of her own, she left her Martin nieces and nephews each a share of her wealth. Or course, her surviving sister, Phebe was at the top of the list. She also listed her brother John’s children and the sole surviving child of her brother Samuel, Cornelia Johnson. She gave me a gift, too. In one enumeration of her heirs, she had neatly packaged her Frear siblings and their extended families.

My 2x great aunt…my surprise. It was good to visit with her this afternoon.

Deborah Ann Frear (1815-1899) is buried along side her husband, Simeon Phillips in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.

Deborah J. Martin-Plugh

Genealogist, Author and Contributing Writer

(c) Copyright 2021

Trodding the Boards

A Note to My Readers:  It was heady stuff…trodding the boards as a high school senior..”Onions In the Stew” and on to Auburn Community College acting under the direction of Dan Labeille in Moliere’s “Tartuffe”…studying Pinter and Chekov and crewing behind the scenes for “Antigone”.   On the road to the Corning Theater Festival…and later the marvelous fun with the Auburn Players…Mark Twain’s “Adam and Eve”.  Rehearsals.  Scrims.  Gels.  Albolene cream.  Performance jitters.  Applause and a curtain call.  

In later years when I would attend the theater, I would find my foot or hand twitching in sync with the performer’s movements.  Obviously though I had gone on to other things, some ancient vibe still responded to the footlights.  And it’s no wonder…it’s wired in the blood.

George D. Curtis, vaudevillian, Minnesota

George D. Curtis, vaudevillian, Minnesota

My great grandfather, George Downing Curtis,  was a theater man.   From his youngest days he was an entertainer and drama followed him in every aspect of his life.   He trod the boards, but soon found his entrepreneurial nature and began purchasing billiard halls and ‘eating establishments’ and vaudeville theaters…eventually opening one of Ithaca, New York’s first moving picture theaters in the old Cornell Public Library.    George was also a dandy who sported a diamond pinkie ring and it wasn’t a big leap to expand his business interests to men’s clothing stores.  Then on to Rochester where he and he wife purchased the old St. Paul’s Church and opened the Happy Hour.  Within a few years the building was razed and the great and grand Strand Theater was built.     Always the showman, his life story is definitely grist for the stage.  Gambling.  Drinking.  Scandal.  Bankruptcy.  Grandiosity.   Divorce.  But never dull.

The Smell of Greasepaint

He wasn’t the only grandson of  Quaker Obadiah J. Downing to find himself drawn to the world of entertainment and drama.  George’s older cousin, Edgar O. Rogers also left the small village of Cayuga to eventually find life under the proscenium arch.   His father, George G. Rogers,  well versed in caring for horses, took his wife, Mary Downing Rogers and their children to Waterloo and then to Rochester where he became a prominent veterinary surgeon.

E. O. Rogers, as he was always booked, had a flare for jewelry and was known to wear a very large diamond breast pin…only to be out shone by one of his minstrel players, “Hi Henry”, whose pin was described as illumining “the hall more than half a dozen or so kerosene lamps”.

As a young man, E. O. Rogers came back from the Civil War and immediately began his stage career.  By 1869 he was a variety performer headlining his own troupe with vocalist, Kate Tilston; comedian Mr. Fielding; Miss Susie Starr, whose specialty was a “Greek dance”;  Mr. E. F. Gorman, flutina soloist;Miss Maude Grinnell, actress;  Mr. J. M. Murray and Miss Nellie Clifford.  Called the Rogers Combination Company they were advertised as the most complete variety troupe ever brought together with a combination of five distinct companies -presenting dramatic, burlesque, pantomime, terpsichorean, Ethiopian and musical features.

Auburn and vicinity welcomed many of  his earliest shows.  The E. O. Rogers Pavillion show performed in Moravia in the summer of 1879.

In 1882 while his cousin was beginning his entertainment career opening billiard parlors and eating establishments, Edgar was the manager of a Havana NY Journal 17 Jun 1882 E O Rogers Uncle Toms Cabincomplete theatrical company taking “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” on the road…

laden with canvas of Mr. Roger’s Pavillion Opera House which he erects in every place where the show is given.  It is the most complete affair of its kind ever carried about by a traveling organization.  It included a large and commodious state, twenty-three complete sets of scenery, folding opera chairs for parquet and dress circle.  The stage has an area of 1600 square feet and the pavilion has a seating capacity of 2, 200.  The company consists of thirty-six artists.  Music is furnished by Professor Morey’s brass and string orchestra.

Never missing an opportunity to astound and thrill, the troupe of performers entered each town with a street parade featuring two uniformed brass bands, “white and colored.”

Investing in a large farm in Friendship, Alleghany, NY in 1885, Edgar and Lillie established a summer home where they could find respite from life on the road and ‘the canvas theater’.

With the flamboyant moniker of The E. O. Rogers Mammoth Double Uncle Tom Cabin’s Troupe, his retinue played to a full house at Nye’s Opera House in Auburn in February 1887 and again at Genoa’s Academy Hall.

The village of Cayuga welcomed their favorite son when he brought the E. O. Rogers Pavillion Opera Company presenting “Ten Nights in A Bar Room” under the big tent in July of 1888.  Company members (Professor) C.  J. Morey and W. B. Waterman registered at the Titus House belonging to  Edgar’s uncle,  David Sands Titus.

With his wife, Lillie Crider Rogers, who played Topsy to his Simon LeGree, Edgar and his entourage traveled throughout New York state, Pennsylvania and New Jersey to “Standing Room Only” crowds of enthusiastic fans as late as 1889.

The Roar of the Crowd

Belmont NY Weekly Dispatch 22 Apr 1890 E O Rogers Circus AdIn 1890 the flamboyant showman was not satisfied with the throngs and financial success that “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” garnered and decided a menagerie would be his next great venture.  Giraffes, elephants…”Ladies and Gentlemen…from the far corners of the world, I bring you…” kind of entertainment.    E. O. felt the need for something new to excite the audience.   For decades he and his accomplished troupe of stage performers had been one of the most successful companies in New York State.    On his new farm in East Hill in Friendship, New York, $8, 000 worth of circus animals were prepared for his latest venture.  A circus.   The animals had been  purchased from the holdings of the late Adam Forepaugh who died in Philadelphia in January of 1890 during the flu epidemic .   Forepaugh and P. T. Barnum had the two largest circuses in the nation, were bitter rivals and E. O. Rogers was ready to give old P. T. some stiff competition.

Elephants and camels were ‘prowling around” the farm joining the ‘terrors’ of the local neighbors…the Rogers family bloodhounds.  Despite the “-ugh” commentary in the Belmont, NY Dispatch, they politely wished Mr. Rogers a prosperous business.

Within months, he and Lillie who had been childless, adopted one year old Sarah Richardson from a Rochester orphanage and renamed her Edna Rogers.  Lillie’s twice widowed mother,  Emily Hess,  moved in with the Rogers and life was good.

Unlike his troupe of human performers, transporting the animals,  training them, caring for them was a bigger task than he had imagined.  And the human performers…were a different breed entirely.  He had heavily invested in his new enterprise confident in his ability to draw crowds.  But the competition was quickly becoming thick and he was out of his element.  Now in their forties and with a new daughter to consider, the Rogers found themselves struggling.    Expenses were terrific and the environs of  a circus brought a rougher side to their lives.

And gambling.  In 1891 during his Great Inter-state show,  circus and menagerie booking in Cattaraugus county New York, he was arrested for conducting a three-monte swindle in connection with the show “whereby one man lost $250.  Rogers readily settled the matter by back the money with $15 costs added.”  Things were going from bad to worse.

Running out of money and not getting any younger, the Rogers decided to go back to what they knew best.  Acting.  By 1897 E. O. Rogers had been booked quickly as a popular orator and promoting him as of “Uncle Newark NY Union Sat Jan 9 1897 Edgar O Rogers Sherman Opera House LectureTom’s Cabin fame’ and ‘veteran circus man’ .  He  gave illustrated lectures  on Sunshine Shadows of a Great City” and  “The War of the Union” and exhibited pictures with Edison’s kinematograph.

Trouble followed Edgar in the form of Rochester laborer Charles John.  When little Edna came home in late summer of 1898 and reported that she had been ‘interfered with’ and pointed out Mr. John as her molester, the enraged father rushed to the site where the man was working a short distance from the Rogers’ home and beat him badly enough to require a physician.  Edgar was arrested and put on trial.  Evidence of Mr. John’s proclivities were brought about by testimony of others in the neighborhood whose children had similar complaints.   After a short deliberation, Edgar was pronounced not guilty and he returned home to the arms of his family.

An 1899 newspaper report in the Bolivar New York “Breeze” reported.

E. O. Rogers, formerly of Friendship is now proprietor of an Uncle Tom show.  Rogers once made $60, 000 with an Uncle Tom show.  Then he got stylish and put his money into a circus that bankrupted him.  He is making money.

The Final Curtain

His beloved Lillie, known as the greatest Topsy for her role in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, was stricken in her dressing room before a performance of Edgar’s acclaimed play “A Dash For Freedom” in 1903.  Her husband carried on his role on stage and the audience knew nothing of the tragedy unfolding back stage.  She died days later in their hotel room in Friendship.

Edna,  then 13 years old, lived with her maternal grandmother in Williamson, NY and Edgar went on with the show.  Westfield NY 1 Nov 1905 E O Rogers Stock Co Ad

The new company, Rogers Dramatic Company later The E. O. Rogers Stock Company, toured the northeast performing their old standard “Ten Nights In A Bar”, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”.  The trades were picking up on his activity back on the boards with great enthusiasm in 1905 reporting a repertory which included his own play “A Dash For Freedom” and characterizing him and his performance as “the author, manager and leading man, is receiving much praise for his clever acting.”

As late as 1907 he was promoting himself  in the New York Dramatic Mirror from his mother-in-law’s Williamson home.


At Liberty after Oct. 15

For old men – height 5 feet 11 – weight 190 -wardrobe-experience-ability-good habits-one play preferred.

He was 57 years old.

In three years he would be dead, destitute, but not forgotten.   The vain and glorious young man who trod the board with the beautiful Lillie, wore diamond stick pins, fascinated crowds near and far, dreamed the wildest dreams ,  took his final curtain call at the Old Soldier’s Home in Bath, New York.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2013.  All Rights Reserved


Author’s Note:   My great grandfather, like his cousin, dreamed amazing dreams and found himself without his theater and his family.  

Hey, Sullivan Shults Davenport! Haven’t We Met Someplace Before??

A Note to My Readers:  I am sure I am not the only historian who has run into a familiar stranger or two while researching a family line.   That is very likely to happen as you go back to the earliest days of American history.   After all, there were less people and somebody HAD to marry someone in that small, small world.  Somewhere along the process you are going to ask yourself…”where have I seen this name before?”

I’M A “Central” NEW YORKER

I am a Tyler descendant and have been researching my Tyler ancestors for years.  The fact that I was born and raised in central New York and that it is the geographic nexus for my ancestral lines over several generations pretty much guarantees I will run into a relative.  First cousins marrying was not an unusual occurrence in the earliest days, but as the population grew and its consequences became clear…madness, deafness, etc., relationships became more distant and diverse.  Another trend that you fairly trip over are siblings of one family marrying siblings of another.   Again, as the population grew and migration became more common and far flung,  that circumstance fell away.

Families sharing common ancestry had reunions, wrote family histories and in general provided current day historians with the bridge information that we all appreciate.  The Tylers were especially enthusiastic celebrating their heritage up until the Great Depression.  Reunions of the Tyler Kindred of America ceased to be planned as the generation of  historians Rollin U. Tyler and William Irving Tyler Brigham died off.  My grandmother and her sisters were the last to attend one of the reunions held in Auburn, New York in the summer of 1929.  Tylers came from all over America and they all knew each other and despite the ‘twice removed’ kind of thing…only referred to each other as “cousin”.  Kin was kin.

Sometimes when you are NOT looking, an individual pops up in the work and your brain puts on the brakes and does the old double take.


Lately, I have been exploring my Davenport and Smith families in the generation of my 4th great grandparents, Ira Smith and his wife, Sarah Davenport, of New Haven, Connecticut and Newfield, Tompkins county, New York.   I had great success with the Smiths as they settled in central New York…despite the epic challenge of the Smith surname.  Ira and Sarah had settled in New York just before 1800 along the western side of Cayuga Lake in what is now Ulysses.   I hadn’t explored the Davenports as they migrated from New Haven so it was time to see if like the Smiths, they sought new opportunities along the Finger Lakes in the post Revolutionary War era.  Did Sarah Davenport Smith’s family members find the same path to the rolling hills above Cayuga Lake?

As I had supposed,  one of Sarah’s siblings heeded the call.  Her youngest brother, A Supplement to The Davenport Family title pgStreet Davenport and his new wife, Nancy Maria Shults, came to New York State shortly after their 1827 marriage where their children, Sullivan Shults Davenport and Mary Hetty Davenport were born.  Sometime between 1835 and 1840, the Davenports migrated one more time…to Townsend, Sandusky, Ohio.

We all know New York State covers a great deal of territory and the Davenports could just as well have settled in Albany or Long Island as anywhere else.  But the argument that they homesteaded with the Smiths along Cayuga Lake can be made because Sullivan Davenport married central New York born Lovina Twiss.  Lovina is a Tyler…her mother was Polly Tyler and her father was Benjamin C. Twiss of Cayuga County, New York.  The Twiss family likewise migrated to the Sandusky County, Ohio area in the period between 1836 to 1850.

So what, you say?   So…I had Polly Tyler Twiss and her daughters Lovina and Permelia entered into my family tree…as a good and faithful Tyler historian when I first began creating the family tree.  Years ago.  Lovina’s husband…yep..Sullivan S. Davenport.  And their progeny.  And I had moved on.  At the time I had no knowledge of my Davenport heritage so Sullivan Shults Davenport was just another Ohioan that had been born in the great state of New York.

Now that I have been putting my Davenport family history in apple pie order, I ran into Sullivan Shults Davenport and had the “deja vu all over again” moment.  I went to enter him into the tree from the Davenport research perspective…with a wife possibly named Lavinia and found…HIM.   Already there.  And Lovina Twiss…not Lavinia somebody or other.  And their children…Ellen Maria and John Elliott and Cora Ada…all of that generation of Tylers that would travel back to Auburn.   Travel back and listen to the speeches from the historians and the songs written and performed for the occasion.  To stand in front of the Pavilion at Owasco Lake for the big group photo of the 1929 Tyler Kindred of America.  The photo that hangs on the wall of my sitting room.  Somewhere amid the throng are individuals that are both my Tyler and Davenport family members.

Circle closed.  And kin is kin.


“A Supplement to The history and genealogy of the Davenport family, in England and America, from A. D. 1086 to 1850”.  Printed for the family, Stamford, CT in 1876 and entered into the Library of Congress in 1877 by Amzi Benedict Davenport.

“The Tyler Genealogy: The Descendants of the Branford, Connecticut Line of Roger Tyler”. By Willard I. Tyler Brigham and Calvin Cedric Tyler, Volume 3.

Tyler Kindred of America Genealogical Records.  University of Connecticut.

Family Records,  Tyler Collection.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2013.  All Rights Reserved

Niagara Falls and The German Husband in a Barrel

A Note to My Readers:  There are few true wonders of the world and I was fortunate to spend some of my early childhood vacations at one of Mother Nature’s most awe-inspiring sites…Niagara Falls.  Last night, my cousin, Bob, emailed a collection of archival photos of Niagara Falls when they froze.  Bob was raised in Buffalo, New York…though he now wisely basks in the warmth of sunny California.  I used to visit his parents…my aunt and uncle… in Buffalo as a small child and Niagara Falls was a ‘must see’ every time we went.  And it was always the most amazing thrill.  A wonder of nature.  Majestic and terrifying.

Niagara Snow Globe When my sister was born in May of 1952, I stayed with the Krolls for a few weeks.  We bundled up one weekend and were ‘off to the Falls’.  It was late May, but the air around the falls is turbulent and filled with the misty, chilly drops of the Niagara River as it plunges into the chasms below.  My belly would flip as I peered through the iron fencing…and looked at the water falling and falling and falling.   I was five and the expanse of the view and the roaring of the mighty water as it fell made my head spin and my ears ring.   I loved it.  My Aunt Mary was generous and doting and often bought me the most delightful trinkets.  And always the perfect thing to touch my young heart.   On this trip she took me into a souvenir shop and bought me a small snow globe…with the  magnificent falls trapped under the dome.  I still remember the globe in her hand…her wrist daintily clad with a small charm bracelet.  A flick of her wrist…her bracelet producing a small tinkling sound…and the snow flew in the miniature universe.  I was enthralled.  I had never seen a snow globe before.

My gift went everywhere with me during my Buffalo stay and one morning while I sat at the breakfast bar, the Kroll’s German-born housekeeper spotted the globe as she bustled about making her famous Belgian waffles.  She popped a strawberry in my mouth, shook the globe, squinted into it and in a matter of fact voice told me that her husband had gone over “der fells” in a barrel.   I chewed on the strawberry and her fantastic statement.  Why would anyone go over the falls in a barrel?  I busied myself with the waffle…topped with fresh whipped cream and strawberries all the while wondering if she was daft.  But then someone who could make such a glorious thing for breakfast could not be crazy.

All day I considered the tale of the housekeeper’s husband that careened over the falls in a barrel.  By four o’clock my mind was as turbulent as the Niagara waters and I suppose I had an expression that gave away my consternation.  Even a ride on my cousin Bob’s shoulders…something he and I both loved to do…running about the living room…through the swinging door from the dining room and into the kitchen…bouncing and giggling…could not completely put my questions aside for long.  The kitchen was beginning to fill with the most wonderful aromas as my aunt began preparations for dinner.  Tonight there were guests and so I would eat early and be off to bed while the adults spent the evening talking politics and gossiping.  Did they know about the man in the barrel?  Was that not THE most wonderful gossip?

I became more silent as I ate…pushing my mashed potatoes around and creating the Horseshoe Falls with the gravy…sorry Mr. Spielberg…a little girl in 1956 sculpted a geographic formation long before “Close Encounters”.  I picked up a pea and plopped it at the crest and watched it ooze down the Beef Gravy Falls.  Ooze…not plunge, but still I considered the erstwhile veggie barrel as over and over again, it made the lazy, downward journey.  “Don’t play with your food, tweetsie-dins,” my aunt admonished in her endearing manner.  My reverie interrupted,  I screwed up my courage and blurted out…”Did a man really go over the falls in a barrel?”

Despite the fact she had an impressive dinner underway, she wiped her hands on her apron…and sat on the kitchen stool next to me.   I told her about her housekeeper’s tale about “der fells” and the German husband in a barrel.  Her eyebrows raised and for a moment I was unsure of her reaction.  And she laughed!   Her perfume enveloped me as she leaned in and squeezed me tight.  Uncle Harry had just arrived home from his work as a furrier at Hengerer’s and found us in the kitchen amidst the food preparation, my potato homage and the tale of the German immigrant who went over the falls.   As they talked,  I ate my dinner slowly disassembling my sculpture until all that remained was a puddle of gravy with a crushed pea…a barrel that failed to survive the slide to the plate intact.

To this day I am not sure of the truth of the tale…so much of that memory is muddled with time. Either the story was true or how the housekeeper explained her “Mrs.” title with no apparent husband…I just don’t recall. I was five and full of mashed potatoes, sleepy from Bob’s caroming shoulder ride through the little Tudor style house on Voorhees Avenue and the barrage of images of roaring water and a bobbing barrel in the Niagara River.

The globe was my constant companion during my stay.  It would be tucked in my pocket…placed by my glass of milk…perched on my bedside table where I could just make out the outline in the dim light and imagine the distant roar trapped under the glass.

Somewhere in the passage of time my snow globe went the way of many lost treasures.  Replaced by another wonder perhaps, but not forgotten.

I have visited Niagara Falls off and on after that…again in 1956 when my mother’s family held a reunion in summer.  We were all

Niagara Falls 1956

Niagara Falls 1956

there…the gaggle of the Purdys oohing and aahing at the sight of the magnificent geological formation.  After the picture taking and hugging…perfumed…always perfumed…I remember peeking over the familiar iron railing and feeling the belly flip of vertigo and for one second…imagining the man in the barrel.

The archival photos that Bob shared with me reminded me, too, of the snaps of cold that are part of living in Buffalo and another image of frozen Niagara Falls.  The falls had gone ‘silent’ during those freezes..the first recorded freeze was in 1848 and in 1911 the folks who lived along the river and near the falls woke up one morning to a deafening silence.   The usual roar of the rushing waters was silenced by fifty feet of ice.  The formation is properly entitled an ice bridge.  The river still ran below and continue to fall, but the depth of the ice and the reduced volume of flowing water acted as a buffer.   It wasn’t long before people bundled up and wandered across the ice crossing the frozen expanse.  In 1912 that became forbidden when the ice broke apart and some unfortunate souls were carried away and over the falls.

I am still fascinated by the lure and lore of Niagara Falls…the romance of it.   It was THE place to wed and honeymoon for the young lovers of New York State for as many years as I can remember.  And there was Canada.  As a child, I thought it marvelous that we could ride in my uncle’s big Oldsmobile and have lunch in another country.

In the spring of 2013 I have plans to visit Buffalo…research at the Darwin Martin House and to spend some time with my other  cousin, Peter.  It might be a good time to make a visit to the Falls and maybe find a snow globe in a little shop.  I will skip the barrel.

UPDATE: My cousin, Bob, read the post and reminded me that their housekeeper was Martha Lerner, Bavarian by birth.  Over the years I could only remember “Marda”.

He relates

Martha was a widow but had children living in the Bflo area.  Big and strong Bavarian with a powerful personality, she was bigger than life! Tried to teach me German – many words and expressions in German are still with me and have come in handy down through the years.  Thanx for sending us down memory lane once again!

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2012.  All Rights Reserved