Category Archives: Coleman

Adding Detail to Our Ancestors Lives with Newspapers: Case Study – Hartwell Thomas Coleman (1868-1938

The amount of details that can be learned from newspapers about our ancestors’ day-to-day lives is incredible. Even if we already know a lot about an individual, news items were very gossipy and informative back in the day and can give a much clearer sense of what life was like.

Hartwell Thomas Coleman is one of my maternal great grandfathers. I wasn’t fortunate enough to have ever known him personally, but Grandmother told me many things about him. I know his exact dates of birth, death and marriages – all three of them – know that he was a master mariner who lived and worked in Calais, Maine on the St. Croix River, but also spent several years working in Boston Harbor in the 1920s and am even fortunate enough to have inherited several photos, from Grandmother, of Hartwell both as a baby and in later years.

His work was mainly as a tugboat captain, piloting steamers up and down the St. Croix River. As he got closer to retirement, he opened a general store, which my mother and aunt loved, because he sold candy and would treat them when they came to Maine on vacation.

A photo of his store has even been handed down to me:

I am a big fan of trolling through old newspapers looking for family information. However, Maine hasn’t been quick to get on the digital newspaper bandwagon and the newspaper I would most like to read, The Calais Advertiser, is still nowhere to be found in historical newspaper collections.

However, Bangor, Maine isn’t all that far from Calais, about 95 miles) and I recently discovered it on one of the subscription websites. The Bangor Daily News in the early 1900s was truly a regional newspaper and had local news columns for Calais and other towns within a wide radius.

I wasn’t sure how much I would find, but Captain Hartwell Coleman was mentioned over 20 times between 1900 and the early 1930s.

Look at all the interesting tidbits I now know about his life:

Hartwell Thomas Coleman

15 April 1900 – earned his master mariner license
18 Nov 1911 – elected Calais harbor master
15 June 1912 – elected Senior Sagamore (1st Vice President) in Etchemin Tribe of the Order of Red Men
19 Aug 1912 – while master of the tug Wesley A. Gove, and while standing on deck of the schooner Ellen M. Golder, he was attacked with a belaying pin by a drunk mentally unstable sailor
13 April 1916 – elected Calais harbor master
15 Jan 1917 – elected trustee of Order of Red Men, 3 year term
28 Dec 1917 – served on committee that agreed to loan tug Henry Wellman for Canada’s use for two months
28 Mar 1919 -noted as having piloted the largest sailing vessel on the St. Croix
28 Mar 1924 – resigned his job in Boston as captain for Bay State Dredging Company & returned to Calais
2 Apr 1924 – Pump and gasoline tank privileges awarded by Calais
2 June 1924 – Grocery store and gas station opened at Bog Brook (Calais)
29 Oct 1932 – Piloted Norwegian steamer Mervion up & down St. Croix River. Carried 2500 tons of coal.
19 Feb 1933 – Subpoenaed as a witness in Bay State Dredging Company v. Grand Manan Steamboat Company.
1 Mar 1933 – Kickapoo ice breaker took on Captain Coleman to guide them through the St. Croix River to break up the ice and make is passable
2 Mar 1933 – Piloted Norwegian steamer Dagia up St. Croix River
27 Apr 1933 – Piloted Norwegian Boomstad down the St. Croix River
19 Sep 1933 – Piloted a Norwegian steamer carrying 1300 lbs of coal down the St. Croix waterway
23 May 1934 – Piloted Kickapoo ice breaker – took five days to open the waterway
15 Feb 1937 – Record for largest ice fishing catch at Nash Lake – 8 lb. salmon
13 May 1937 – Kenneth Scott, wife & 2 children called on Hartwell & his family. Kenneth arrived back home down hardscrabble Road before his family. Wife heard a gunshot and he had killed himself.
9 Feb 1938 – Captain Coleman has been in ill health, but feeling better
31 Mar 1938 – Death announcement of Captain Coleman

I have learned so much more about my great grandfather. I know exactly when he became a master mariner and I know the names and dates that he piloted various sailing vessels.

I’ve learned that he was an avid fisherman, not a surprise given where he lived, but that he also enjoyed ice fishing on nearby Nash Lake.

As for the general store that Mom remembered, I know exactly when it opened and even when he was okayed to sell gasoline.

Sadly, I did not know about Kenneth Scott. He married 17 year old Beryl Boone in 1929. Beryl was one of Hartwell’s step children by his third wife, which explains why the young family was “calling on” Hartwell.

I never knew Beryl, but did know her sister, Doris, and visited once with her and Grandmother’s half sister, Lydia. They told me many family stories, but they were focused on the Coleman family, not the Boones.

I didn’t know it at the time, but Doris was a distant cousin of Grandmother, Lydia and I through her father’s line. It also happens to be the line that adds Mayflower passenger George Soule as a branch on my family tree.

Now that I know how much news was picked up by the Bangor Daily News, I want to read the Calais Advertiser even more!




John Norton & Mary Torrey, Edgartown, Massachusetts

John Norton was born about 1674, probably in Edgartwon, Dukes, Massachusetts, the son of Joseph Norton and Mary Bayes. John married Mary Torrey, believed to be the daughter of Jonathan and Ruth (Fry) Torrey of Weymouth, Massachusetts.

Edgartown is on the eastern edge of Martha’s Vineyard just northwest of Nantucket Island. Early families here mostly made their living at sea and often traveled the short distance between the two islands. It isn’t surprising that my Coleman and Coffin lines in Nantucket intersect with the Norton family in Martha’s Vineyard.

John and Mary were the parents of five known children:

  1. Mary, born c1700; died 15 January 1746, Edgartown, Dukes, Massachusetts in her 46th year; married Christopher Beetle, 25 October 1718, Edgartown, Dukes, Massachusetts. No death record has been found for Christopher, but he survived Mary.
  2. Jemima, born c1702; died 3 April 1794, Tisbury, Dukes, Massachusetts in her 92nd year; married Cornelius Dunham. He may be the Cornelius Dunahm whose death is recorded in Boston in 1766, no month or day noted.
  3. John, born c1704; reportedly removed to Connecticut
  4. Rachel, born c1706; died 16 October 1767, Nantucket, Massachusetts; married Joseph Coleman, c1729
  5. Jerusha, born c1708; buried 4 February 1769, Edgartown, Dukes, Massachusetts; married Ichabod Wiswall, 9 December 1735, Edgartown, Dukes, Massachusetts. He resided in Dorchester at the time of his marriage. Ichabod was buried in Edgartwon on 17 June 1784, aged 78 years.

John Norton died on 6 December 1730 in Edgartown, leaving a will, written a week before his death on 30 November 1730. Mary survived him by many years, dying on 29 July 1814, also in Edgartown.

Will of John Norton, Dukes County, Massachusetts
Probate Records, Volumes 1-3, Pages 61-64

In the name of God amen. I, John Norton of Edgartown in ye County of Dukes County in ye Province of ye Massachusetts Bay in New England Gentleman Being very sick & weak of Body but of perfect sence & memory Praised be almighty God for the same and calling to mind that is is Appointed for all men once to Dye & knowing ye Uncertainty thereof Do there fore make & ordain this to be my Last Will & Testament in manner & form following. That is to say

Imprimis I Give & Recommend my soul Into the hands of Almighty God who gave it hoping through ye intersession & mediation of our Blessed Lord & only Redeemer Jesus Christ to receive a full perfect & absolute forgiveness of all my sins & transgressions by his Meritorious Death & Passion —-

Item my Body I Recommend to ye Earth to be Decently Interred after my Decease in a Christian Like manner att ye Discression of my Executor hereafter named nothing doubting but to find a Joy full Resurrection at ye Last Day: – And as for what worldly Estate it hath pleased Almighty God to bestow upon me & Bless me with all I give will devise and bequeath ye same in manner & form following viz. First it is my will & desire yt my Just Debts to be truly paid & Discharged by my Executor hereafter named & out of his Proportion of my Estate –

Item. I give will & bequeath unto my loving wife Mary Norton the one Third part of all my whole Estate both Real & Personal in Possession & Reversion for & During ye sd Mary Nortons Natural Life & it is my will yt after her Decease the same shall desend unto my Son John Norton Junr his heirs Execs Adms and assigns for ever.
Item. I give will & Bequeath unto my Daughter Jemima the wife of Cornelius Dunham one acre of land: that is one acre of the North Westerly part of my now dwelling house lott in sd Edgartown beginning from the outermost part thereof & so running in full breadth Downwards so as to contain one acre & including the Dwelling houses wherein sd Jemima now lives. To her the sd Jemima Dunahm her heirs Execrs Adms and assigns forever.

Item. I give will devise & bequeath unto my aforsd Son John Noton Jur all the Residue & whole remaining part of my Estate both Real & Personall in Possession or Revision & all and Eney the Debts & dues that shall be found Due & owing to me to him ye sd John Norton Junr his heirs Execs Adms & assignes for ever. Provided Nevertheless that iit is my will & Pleasure that he pay & discharge all such just Debts as are due from me. (Turn over) and do also pay the several Legacys unto the persons hereafter named.

Item. I give will Devise unto my Daughter Mary ye wife of Christopher Beete ye sum of fifty Pounds money Currency of New England to be paid unto her the sd Mary by my aofresd son John Norton Jur according to ye time hereafter Expressed to her sd Mary Beetle her heirs Exers Adms & assignes for ever: –

Item. I give will Devise & bequeath unto my Daughter Jemima the wife of Cornelius Dunham ye Sum of Sixty Pounds money Currency of New England to be paid unto her in same manner as the aforesd Marys is to be paid to her sd Jemima Dunham her heirs Execrs adms and assigns for ever.

Item. I give will Devise & bequeath unto my Daughter Rachel the wife of Joseph Coleman the sum of fiftey Pounds Money currency of New England to be paid unto her sd Rachel in ye same manner as the aforesd Mary Beetle & Jemima Dunhams is to be paid. To her sd Rachel Coleman her heirs Execrs Admrs and assigns for Ever.

Item. It is my will & Pleasure that ye legacys to be paid unto my aforsd daughters Mary Beetle & Jemima Dunham & Rachel Coleman be paid unto them by my aforsd son John Norton Junr his heirs Execrs or Adms within he space or at ye expriation of two nears next after my Decease That is to Say ye one halfe of sd severall Legacys to be paid to each one Respectively according to their proportion or to their respective heirs Execrs Adms or Assigns at ye expiration of one year next after my Decease & ye remaining halfe part of Each ones proportion to be paid in like manner at ye expiration of ye above term of two years next after my decease. but if yt my sd son John Norton Jur shall see cause for to sett of any part of real or personall Estate or of both for to pay sd Legacys or any part thereof That then sd Mary Beetle Jemima Dunham and Rachel Coleman shall receive their proportion of ye sd estate as he shall Nominate & Appoint according as ye same shall or may be lawfully Apperized & such part as they shall receive shall be deemed & taken to be paid in part proportionally of their aforsd Severall Legacys & ye Reason that I have allowed unto sd Mary Beetle Jemima Dunham Rachel Coleman no Larger Legacys is yt on their Marriages & Since I have paid & given them Considerable Sums of Money.

Methodology: Connecting Joseph Coleman & Joseph Coleman as Father & Son

The dog days of summer seemed like a good time to blog a series about my Coleman and Coffin lines. I’ve written several thousand words covering multi-generations of these lines, culminating with the family of Joseph Coleman of Bowdoinham, Lincoln, Maine, who I wrote about a couple of days ago.

If you’ve followed the details of Joseph the son instead of Joseph the father, you might have noticed that I’ve never mentioned any smoking gun connecting Joseph in Bowdoinham with the family in Nantucket and Orange County, New York.

That’s because there is no one document connecting the two men. Instead, it took years of sorting out the Coleman families, eliminating possibilities and then connecting them on the strength of preponderance of evidence and the Bowdoinham FAN club.

For many years, Joseph Colman/Coleman in Bowdoinham was a complete mystery. It took very little effort to find him marrying Ruth Spurr in 1793 in Roxbury, Massachusetts:

American Ancestors

The land deed detailing the purchase of land in Bowdoinham by Joseph Coleman in 1796, sold by James Bowdoin of Dorchester, Massachusetts, tied this couple neatly together, as there are no other Joseph and Ruth Colemans anywhere around.

Lincoln County, Maine Deed Book 37: 226-227

During the next two decades, my research on this line consisted of chasing down records for every Coleman family in Massachusetts during the second half of the 18th century. It ended up being a process of eliminating each and every family, one by one. This was all before the internet age.

In 1850, Joseph Coleman stated that he was born in Massachusetts. Of course, that could have meant Maine because Maine was part of Massachusetts in 1770, which is about when Joseph was born.

However, I could find no links between the very few Colemans who were in early Maine and my Joseph.

Next, every book in the Massachusetts Vital Records to 1850 series that I could lay hands on, which was most of them over a twenty year time span,  was checked. I read every Coleman genealogy that I could find, which mainly covered William Coleman of Gloucester, Massachusetts and Thomas Coleman of Nantucket, Massachusetts.

I hired a researcher at the New England Historic Genealogical Society to read some records to which I had no access, including the Massachusetts 1798 Direct Tax. I reasoned that even if my Joseph’s father had died by then, it would still guide me to towns where Colemans lived. Nothing came of that venture except for more possibilities crossed off the list.

It did become quite evident that Joseph as a given name was rare in almost every Coleman family in Massachusetts, with the exception of the descendants of Thomas Coleman of Nantucket. Among that group, Joseph was a popular name.

After all the negative findings, I narrowed my focus to the Nantucket group. Again, I contacted NEHGS and learned about the Nantucket Historical Association and their fabulous online database. Eliza Starbuck Barney compiled information on 40,000 residents of Nantucket covering the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

The family of Joseph and Eunice (Coffin) Coleman quickly made itself known. Here was a couple who were exactly the right ages to be parents to my Joseph. Although the births of their children weren’t recorded in Nantucket vital records, it did note the baptism of three daughters in December 1773.

The NHA database also included the most valuable clue of all – that the family removed to Newburgh, Orange County, New York.

Nantucket Historical Association Surname Database

Because of the reference to Newburgh, New York, I was able to prove that Joseph Sr. didn’t die in 1775 off the coast of Guinea and land deeds, along with marriage records, proved the names of his five children, at least those who survived to adulthood. I’ve found no evidence of the existence of a child Eunice and I believe Mary Ann and Polly are the same person.

Now, for the critical steps of connecting Joseph Sr. and Joseph Jr. First of all, even though the land deeds say the grantors/ grantees are all residents of that place, I think that might or might not be true. Joseph Sr. was correctly identified as “of Nantucket” in 1774, but in all transactions involving this family, I am not positive that they were residents of where the deeds state they were.

For example, the daughters lived in the town of New Windsor, but were identified as living in Newburgh. At times, Newburgh is identified as part of Ulster County, which it was at an earlier point in history, but was in Orange County at the time the deed was recorded. It doesn’t seem that the county clerk required much proof of residency; he just took the word of the people filing the deed.

Third, knowing that Joseph Sr. and Joseph Jr. were both mariners presents an easy way for them to travel back and forth over thousands of sea miles.

Although Joseph Jr. appears in the 1820 census of Bowdoinham, there is a Joseph Coleman in the 1820 census of Calais, Washington, Maine, which is across a narrow strip of water separating it from New Brunswick, Canada. This Joseph Coleman is an older man and has two young men in the household with him.


Being a mariner, Joseph could easily have stopped off in Calais for a while to check it out. Yes, this could be another man entirely, but Calais happens to have some very early tax records from the 1820s that have survived.

Calais Tax List, 1820

In 1821, one Thomas Coleman appeared on the same list:

Calais Tax List, 1821

Coincidence or not, “my” Thomas, Joseph’s son, turned 21 that year.

In 1822, three Colemans appear, Joseph, followed by Thomas and William:

Calais Tax List, 1822

If they are in order of age and are, indeed, father and sons, William would be one of the unknown sons of Joseph and Ruth (Spurr) Coleman.

Thomas Coleman remained on that list through 1823 and then disappears. What happened to “my” Thomas Coleman? Well, he married Mary Elizabeth Astle in Nelson, Northumberland, New Brunswick, Canada on 22 June 1830. If this early Calais family is my Coleman bunch, Thomas headed north.

Thomas might have traveled by land into Canada, but he easily could have sailed all the way to the Miramichi River, which empties into the ocean, and the village of Nelson.

Joseph and William Coleman remained on the Calais tax list until 1825. Joseph would have returned to Bowdoinham. What became of William? I have never found a trace of him. True to form, no Coleman owned land in Calais at this time.

What I can prove, though, is that my Thomas Coleman named his only son, WILLIAM, and sometime before the 1840 U.S. census, he brought his young family back into the United States to live. Thomas and family spent the remainder of their lives in – you guessed it – Calais, Maine. Another proven fact is that both William Coleman and his son, my great grandfather Hartwell Thomas, followed the sea. Captain William Coleman was a tug master along the St. Croix River and Bay of Fundy, while Hartwell became a master mariner. This seems like a bit too much of a coincidence to me.

Here is a comparison of “my” Bowdoinham Joseph and Joseph Jr. in New York. Notice that, aside from a county clerk mentioning that all in the deed resided there, there are no other facts which preclude them from being the same man.

Joseph of Bowdoinham:

1. Born 1768-1772
2. Married Ruth Spurr in Roxbury, MA on 24 August 1793
3. Of Bowdoinham when he bought land there on 22 October 1796
4. Of Bowdoinham when he sold the same land on 19 December 1798
5. 1800 census – Lincoln County, Maine
6. 1820 census – Lincoln County, Maine
7. 1830 census – Lincoln County, Maine
8. 1840 census – Lincoln County, Maine
9. 1850 census – Lincoln County, Maine
10. Died 15 April 1852 and buried in Brown Point Cemetery, Bowdoinham, Maine
11. Had no other relatives with the Coleman surname nearby in Maine
12. No primary documents have been found proving the birth places of Joseph’s children, aside from Thomas’s death certificate (88 years old at death) stating he was from Richmond, Maine.

Joseph of New York:

  1. Birth not recorded, but siblings born c1761-c1775
  2. Deed dated 4 April 1796 names Joseph and his four sisters as heirs of Joseph Coleman. States he is a local resident. (Six months later he is called “of Bowdoinham” if the same man as my Joseph, which is certainly physically possible.)
  3. Deed dated 4 February 1801 again states he is of New York as he records land sale to Isaac Belknap as his share of estate of his father.
  4. NO land deeds found in his name in New York
  5. NO marriage record found for him in New York
  6. Appears in NO census records in New York
  7. NO death/probate record found for Joseph in New York
  8. NO further records of any kind have been located for Joseph inn New York.
  9. Both the estate inventory of his father and that of his mother’s cousin, Benjamin Coffin, supported an on-going continued tie to friends and relatives in Massachusetts based on debtor and creditor lists.

There is nothing in either of these Joseph’s fact lists that precludes them from being the same man. How would Joseph of New York have ended up marrying Ruth Spurr in Roxbury in 1793? Look at the New York Coleman FAN club. Some of his mother’s Coffin cousins lived in the Boston area, specifically Dorchester and Roxbury. The 1790 Roxbury census includes Isaac Belknap, not his brother-in -law, but a cousin by marriage.

Isaac Belknap, Roxbury, MA 1790

That’s not to mention all of his mother’s cousins and extended family ties in the Boston area. Being a mariner, access to Boston was simple!

Assuming that Joseph in Bowdoinham is one and the same person, aside from buying his 1796 property from James Bowdoin, who lived in Dorchester, Massachusetts, what would make Joseph traipse off to the wilds of southern Maine and the tiny village of Bowdoinham? Again, check out his Bowdoinham FAN club through the only records available – the censuses. In 1800, the Bowdoinham census is just three short pages. Although there are no Colemans living nearby (since he had no brothers, that isn’t so odd), there are multiple Coffin families, a Bunker family (related by marriage)  and one John King (his maternal grandmother had married William King, who did have a son John) and Joseph’s neighbor was Isaac Gardner, who would have been a cousin on his mother’s side of the family.

I haven’t researched the other early Bowdoinham residents, but no doubt they included a few other acquaintances of Joseph’s from Massachusetts.

Joseph Coleman Sr., mariner, seemed to be a somewhat restless soul, always on the move. My Joseph had some of the same wandering spirit and the love of the sea continued down through my line to my great grandfather.

I’ve had a couple of top-notch, professional researchers agree with my conclusion that Joseph Coleman of Bowdoinham, Maine and Joseph Coleman of Newburgh, New York are one and the same man. What do you think?