Tag Archives: New York

Tombstone Tuesday – The Curse of the Chaneys

More Josephine Chaney

The Sunday Oregonian, August 8, 1920

Some families seem to have more than their share of tragic deaths. One such family is that of Phineas Benjamin Chaney and his wife, Josephine Welsh. Phineas was my fourth cousin 5 times removed through the Davis line. Phineas was born 8 January 1854 in Illinois, the son of Phineas, Sr., and Mary Jane (Berry) Chaney. Even before Phineas, Jr., was born, his parents had endured their own share of tragedy; of their eleven children, four died before their second birthday.  Another child, Emma, died shortly before she would have turned 22.

At least Phineas, Jr., did live long enough to marry; he and Josephine had a son, Fred Russell Chaney, born in March 1885, apparently in New York. At some point the family moved to Portland, Oregon; there, on 9 April 1895, aged 41, Phineas died of appendicitis. The Sunday Oregonian of 12 April 1895 reports the sad events:

“The funeral of Phineas P. Chaney, who died at the Portland hospital, on April 9, took place yesterday afternoon from his late residence at 1193 East Yamhill, a short distance from the Rosedale station, Mount Tabor railway. There was present a large concourse of the friends of Mr. Chaney. The services were conducted by C. B. Reynolds, of the Secular church. At 2:15, the choir began the services by singing the beautiful song, “Sweet Bye and Bye,” when Mr. Reynolds arose and delivered an eloquent address. The remains were buried at Lone Fir cemetery. Mr. Chaney had lived in his present home about four years, coming from Brooklyn, N.Y. He was 41 years old. He was an accomplished millwright, and constructed most of the gearing and machinery in the docks along the East Side. Only a week ago, he was taken sick, and was removed to the Portland hospital, where it was found, as a last resort, that the vermiform appendix would have to be removed. The operation was performed, but he was too far gone to recover, and inflammation ensued, which terminated his life. He leaves a widow and a little son.”

Phineas’s widow, Josephine, was 35 years old and became a schoolteacher. Later young Fred entered medical school at the University of Oregon. After completing his medical training, he moved to Alaska to practice medicine there. In September 1908, while he and three other men were climbing a mountain near the Valdez glacier, he slipped and fell 200 feet. He was apparently not killed instantly but was taken into Valdez, where he died. He was 23 years old; his body was returned to Portland and buried near his father.

Josephine, having lost both husband and only child, continued to teach. She appears in the 1900, 1910, and 1920 censuses, listed as a schoolteacher. In that final census, her address is listed as 415 Yamhill Street. There, seven months later at the Elton Court Apartments, the family’s final tragedy occurred.  At five o’clock in the morning, perhaps caused by a careless smoker, a fire started in the lobby of the apartment building and spread quickly, up both the elevator shaft and the stairs. Josephine was trapped on the fourth floor and, as firemen attempted to rescue her, fell from a window to the sidewalk below.  She died en route to the hospital. Two other women were killed after jumping from the second and fourth floors. Josephine, aged 60 according to some records, 54 according to the Sunday Oregonian, was buried in what is now known as Portland’s River View Cemetery with her husband and son.

Amanuensis Monday – The Moses Taylor Letters

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In 1968, June Finten Everett transcribed some 57 letters written between 1842 and 1867 to her great-grandfather Moses Taylor in Michigan. The letters were written by various members of the family he had left behind in upstate New York. These copies were discovered by Arlene McAvoy in a file at the LDS Family History Center in Potsdam, New York; between 1997 and 1998 our cousin David Johnson connected with Arlene, and David shared his discovery with me.

Two of these letters were written by my great-great-great-great-grandfather, John Wilder Wilson. His second wife, Mary, was the sister of Moses Taylor (his unknown first wife was my 4G-grandmother). John Wilder was born February 22, 1807 in Louisville, New York. He married his first wife probably around 1830 and had two children: Charles (my 3G-grandfather) and Dana. After his first wife’s death he married Mary Eunice Taylor on April 20, 1839; she was born New Year’s Day 1818 in Louisville, the daughter of Elon and Cyrena (Carpenter) Taylor. Mary’s brothers Moses and Elias (who was married to John Wilder Wilson’s niece Sally) both moved to Michigan, and a series of letters traveled back and forth, including the two below written by John Wilder Wilson:

Massena, NY
Sept. the 20th, 1857

Respected Brother and Sister, After a long silence I now (take) my pen in hand to write a few lines to let you know that we are all well as usual at present. It is a long time since we have heard anything from you. I enquire of your folks often about you but I hear nothing. I was up to your Father’s last Sunday. They were all well there. They told me that Elias had been down (and) preached for them. He did not call on us so I can’t tell you much about them. Elen and wife made us a visit a month ago and David and wife and little girl made us a good visit about three weeks ago. They were all well then and doing very well. Emaline was the last I heard from her. We are on a farm on shares or rather (at any) rate we milk twelve cows on the place. The farm is hard and stoney. We do not raise much grain. We have a good deal of hay to cut to keep what stock we have and the meadows are rough, a good deal run out. We have of undivided stock 2 cows, 2 two years olds, 6 yearlings and 4 calves 30 sheep. I have a good mare 6 years old, 1 colt two years old and one sucking colt of my own and four hogs that are company stock and we have our two old cows that we took off from the island , but I shall have to sell some stock this fall to pay debts as we do not raise grain enough for our own use. We make considerable butter, but not enough to pay all expenses. But I am in hopes that in a year or two more that we shall get along better as our boys get up a little larger. They are very good boys to work and they help a good deal now. Our children (are) healthy and smart but poor John, he has fits and is very bad a good share of the time and is very troublesome to take care of. He fails a good deal for a year past. It’s not likely he will live long.

I must now tell you about our little fellow. He is about 7 months old now, smart and pretty healthy generally. We call him Frederick Elen. We have to be continued at home. We have so much to do, cows to milk and butter to attend to and the sick boy and baby and all. We can’t be gone overnight. We have not kept any hired help this summer. We all have to work pretty hard, but our children are growing and as long as we are all well I am none concerned but what we shall get along. And now I want you should write and tell me how you are getting along and how fast you are getting rich and what the chances are in your country for taking farms and what a man can do there with but little to do with for if the chances are pretty good I might be tempted to go there someday and try my luck in your country. I have not much news to write. It’s quite still times at present here. As to politics in this town we are most all republicans. As to religion I am just about as I used to be when you was here. I have not heard anything from our folks in Burlington this summer. If you see any of them tell them that we are all well and tell them to write to me and you just write a little about them for fear they won’t write right away. I suppose they are like me, they don’t get about writing very often. And give my compliments to Hosea and family and Harriet if she is there . I always remember the good visit we had when you and sister Taylor was there on the island with us. We do not hear from Samuel and Charlotte very often. If you do please mention it. Now please to write soon. Direct Massena village and I shall get it. So now bid you a good evening. I am, sir, yours respectfully

John W. Willson Mary Willson

Riverton, Mich
May 8, 1867

Brother Moses and Sister Dyantha,

I now sit down to write a few lines to you to let you know that we had not forgotten you. We are well as usual for us. We are growing old pretty fast and we feel the effects of old age pretty sensibly. Mary’s health has been very poor for a year past and mine has not been much better. We have been just able to keep about and do a little but we can’t do much.

We expected to hear from you by Elias when he came back from the east but we did not and we were some disappointed not to. Now there appears to be some thing wrong with regard to matters between you and Elias for I can hardly credit some of his statements. Now has he any reason to make such statements or is it all an imaginary exaggeration? We have heard from him now we just want an explanation from you. For my part it don’t trouble me much but it troubles Mary a good deal for she cannot believe that Moses has got to be such a man nor I can’t nor don’t. I let him say what he is a mind to and let it pass at that. I think that he is partially deranged by times for he has had trouble enough to make a half a dozen men crazy if all is true that he tells. Now I want this to be confidential betwixt your family and mine. I don’t want him to know that I correspond with you at tall. I don’t want to offend him and let him forget his trouble if he can so we hear what he has to say without any contradiction and let him tell his storys as he has a mind to.

We have commenced farming a little, plowing and sowing wheat but the weather is cold and dry yet. My letter did not get sent to the post office and has laid over so I will try again. It is now the 5th of May and we have a fine rain yesterday and last night but the weather is quite cool yet but clear and pleasant.

Elias was here to see us yesterday. He comes when he is in the neighborhood and has time. He works around at little jobs of carpenter work when can get chances. He talks of buying a piece of land some where in our neighborhood but whether he will or not I don’t know. He is so unsteady that we can’t tell what he will do. Moses and his wife have got a young daughter born on March the 11th. They are all well. Margery and her man are getting along very well and Marrion lives with them. My boys are all at home now and will put in our crops and then they will go to work out until harvest. Alice is married and lives in about half a mile of us. So now I believe I have got about done for this time. We send you our respects, not forgetting Gustus and wife and Lula . So I remain yours as ever.

J. W. Wilson

John Wilder and Mary Wilson had six children together, including John, the son mentioned in John Wilder’s letter as having “fits.” The 1850 census does list John, Jr., as an “idiot.” Other sources indicate John’s fits “ruined him” and made him a “cripple.” Mary Taylor Wilson died June 1, 1882; as yet John Wilder’s death date and place are unknown. It’s also interesting to note that John Wilder’s eldest son Charles Wilson married Lucy Bridges Taylor about 1857 in Louisville. Lucy was born in Louisville in September 1834, the daughter of Loring and Caroline (Caryl) Taylor. Loring had been born in 1805 in Chester, Vermont; Mary Eunice Taylor’s father Elon was born in Massachusetts in 1792 but married Cyrena Carpenter in Readsboro, Vermont, in 1811 – could the two Taylor families be related by blood as well as by marriage?