Monday, June 18, 2012

Amanuensis Monday - Pt 2 of A Story by Howard Matthews

Last Monday I started transcribing the personal story and family history of my paternal grandfather, Howard B. Matthews.  I'm sorry to say that I disparaged him a bit in that post, saying that he did not cite his sources.  Well, he didn't, in the finished version of his manuscript.  But he did save all of the correspondence with his family while he was trying - over many years as it turns out - to piece together the facts of his family.  I found all those letters this week and although I know it will take a long time to go through it all, I can tell I have found a rich source of information.

The first installment gave us a little history of the Pittston, PA area and ended with my great-grandfather, Arthur Matthews' immigration to the United States shortly after Abraham Lincoln's assassination.  Today you will learn a little more about Arthur and about my great grandmother, Ada Hobbs Merritt Matthews and her family.

       I do not know what caused him [Arthur Matthews] to settle in Pittston, but from the number of Welsh people we visited on Sunday afternoons during my childhood, and the number who in turn visited us at 13 Nafus Street, it is possible that they influenced his choice.  And it is possible that his first wife was of the Griffith families who came to the USA from Wales in 1830 and 1860, settled in Pittston and neighboring Plymouth and were engaged in sinking coal mine shafts. Or he may have been related to and had maintained contact with descendents [sic] of William Matthews who emigrated from Wales to Litchfield, Connecticut in 1671, and decades later married into the Lyman Hakes family of Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
In any event he went to work in the mines of the Pennsylvania Coal Company, founded by William R. Griffith.  I imagine, altho I am not certain, that at first he must have been just a miner.  But not for long, for his first love was music.  He played the violin and the piano, composed hymns and led the choir in the Methodist Episcopal Church in Pittston.  Soon, as an independent contractor, supervising his crew at the mines required only the first two hours of the day; the rest of the day he spend at his music store uptown.  A very devout Roman Catholic Miss Allen ran the store when he was busy elsewhere.  Later she became a nun.
By his first wife, a Griffith, he fathered two sons; William Matthews, 1869 and John Matthews born 1870.  We are told that she died in childbirth.  Thus, my father was widowed when he was 26.  At that time my mother, Ada Hobbs Merritt Matthews (born in 1855) would have been only 15 years of age.  We do not know the date they married* but their first child, my sister Lillian, was born in 1878 when my mother would have been 23 and my father 34.
My mother’s brother, Joseph Hobbs, and her two sisters, Emily and Bessie, came to this country from London and lived in West Pittston, Pa., with their mother’s brother, Uncle John Merritt.  Later, following the death of her mother, my mother, then a very young girl, came to live with Uncle John and his wife Margaret.  I know no more about my mother’s family or how they were situated, but several things seem to indicate that they were not an impoverished family.  A picture of my mother, taken in London when she was quite young, shows a very well dressed young lady.  And Uncle John Merritt is described as a native of England, of a family of inventors.  Also, many times, as a child I heard (and Dorothy did also) about tea lands owned by my mother’s family in the Far East and that unless someone of the family went to England to assert ownership, thy would revert to the Crown.  This was brought up again and again, always with regret that no one had looked into it.
A History of Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, published in 1893, describes Uncle John and his wife, Margaret Stephens Merritt, as natives of England, of a family of inventors.  It states that John Merritt had charge of the machinery of the Pennsylvania Coal Company until 1870, and was superintendent of the Pittston Gas Co. until his death in 1882 when my mother was 27.
My mother lived with Great Uncle John and his wife Margaret until she married my father.  Margaret is said to have strongly opposed the marriage as they had become very fond of Ada and felt she was much too young to marry a widower who was the father of two young sons.  Apparently she was opposed to marriage in general, for their own daughters, Mary and Margaret, never married.  In addition, they had two sons, John W. Merritt, Jr. born 1859 and Adrian.  Adrian was an engineer.
My niece, Dorothy Hunter Krick Kenworthy, older daughter of my sister Lillian, knew John Jr. and his two sisters quite well and called on them and John’s daughter Edith at the homestead on Wyoming Avenue in West Pittston.  She describes them as very proper persons who spoke the King’s English and served tea every afternoon.  Uncle John who live to be 90, (he attended Wyoming Seminary), she describes as an interesting and well educated electrical engineer.  He was Superintendent of the Pittston Light Co., and was responsible for the planning and installation of electric power in Pittston.  Later he moved to Virginia as a mining engineer.  Dorothy and her mother Lillian visited Uncle John and the two sisters frequently.  Dorothy says she enjoyed Margaret because she was more down to earth and she had a wonderful sense of humor.  She was organist of the West Pittston Trinity Church for years.  The Merritts were Episcopalians as was Grandma Matthews (my mother) until she married.
Dorothy describes my mother’s sister Emily as a petite little person, very proud of her appearance, especially her dainty feet!  Bessie, for whom my sister was named, was extremely attractive and had a beautiful singing voice.  After her marriage to William Snell they lived in Dorrancetown (now Kingston) where she sang in the Methodist choir.  They legally adopted Mr. Snell’s niece, Ellen, a close friend of my sister Lillian.  Ellen later became Deaconess of the M. E. church.  Aunt Bessie died in the 1930s.
Dorothy’s letters, from which much of this information is taken, are filled with other backup materials.**

*   I found the date of Ada and Arthur's marriage - they were married at the Methodist parsonage on October 28, 1876.
** I have just found these letters.

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