Early Settlers—Watertown, MA—John Whitney

John Whitney is remembered on Founder’s Monument as a founder of Watertown, Massachusetts. [1]

Watertown was first settled in 1630, 10 years after the arrival of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, Massachusetts Bay.

“A party of the adventurous emigrants who came in Winthrop’s fleet, with Sir Richard Saltonstall and Rev. George Phillips at their head, selected a place on the banks of Charles river for their plantation. On the 7th of Sept., 1630, (O. S.) the court of assistants, at Charlestown, ‘ordered that Trimountain be called Boston, Mattapan, Dorchester, and the town on Charles river, Watertown.'” [2]

“In 1632 the residents of Watertown protested against being compelled to pay a tax for the erection of a stockade fort at Cambridge; this was the first protest in America against taxation without representation and led to the establishment of representative democracy in the colony.” [3]

John was born in London, England, on 20 Jul 1588. He married Eleanor Arnold before 1619. [4] [5]

John, Eleanor (listed as Ellen), and their five children arrived in Massachusetts Bay on 13 Apr 1635 on the ship Elizabeth & Ann, and settled in Watertown. [4]

John was admitted freeman 3 Mar 1636, and elected Selectman of the town in 1637. He held the office for many years, until 1655, when he was elected town clerk. He was appointed constable on 1 Jun 1641 by the General Court. [4]

In Watertown, John purchased his homestall, 16 acres, but also was a grantee of eight lots of 212 acres. It is likely he gifted much of the 212 acres to his sons as their homestalls. [4]

John died on 1 Jun 1673 in Watertown at the age of 84 [4], and is interred there at the Old Burying Place Cemetery. [6]

John Whitney I (1588-1673) is 10th great-grandfather of MKS in the Wetherbee branch.

[Updated 21 Dec 2018]
John Whitney I (1588-1673) is also 12th great-grandfather of MKS in the Watne branch.

[1] Founder’s Monument—Watertown, Massachusetts, Life From The Roots blog. The two photos above are from this website.
[2] Historical collections: being a general collection of interesting facts, traditions, biographical sketches, anecdotes, &c., relating to the history and antiquities of every town in Massachusetts, with geographical descriptions, by John Warner Barber, published by Warren Lazell, 1844. 
[3] Watertown, Massachusetts, wikipedia.org.
[4] Whitney. The Descendants of John Whitney, who came from London, England, to Watertown, Massachusetts, in 1635, by Frederick Clifton Pierce, W.B. Conkey Company, 1895.
[5] Genealogies of the Families and Descendants of the Early Settlers of Watertown, Massachusetts …, by Henry Bond, N.E. Historic-Genealogical Society, 1860; Volume I, 427.
[6] Old Burying Place, findagrave.com.

Photo Friday—Charles and Goldie Spratlin 50th Anniversary

Charles Spratlin and Goldie Christian Spratlin, 50th Anniversary Reception, Oct 1973.

Charles and Goldie were married on 14 Oct 1923 in Clarke County, Georgia.

They were honored at a reception in Athens, Clarke County, Georgia, in Oct 1973 by their children Evelyn, John, Milton, and Faye, and a large gathering of friends and relatives.

Charles Franklin Spratlin (1907-1978) is great-grandfather of MKS in the Spratlin branch.

Goldie Marzee Christian (1907-1992) is great-grandmother of MKS in the Spratlin branch.

Source: KMS Family Genealogy Digital Archive, Jacqueline Anne Knight Spratlin collection (photograph).

Pioneer Departed—Alpheus Adams Obituary

Alpheus Adams obituary, The Moon, 8 Apr 1910.

This obituary for Alpheus Adams was found during our recent epic road trip that included a visit to the North Dakota State Archives in Bismarck, North Dakota. It is a little difficult to read as it was scanned from microfiche.

It was published on the front page of the Hannah, Cavalier County, North Dakota, newspaper The Moon, on 8 Apr 1910.

The identification of W.E. Adams and George Adams as his half-brothers was a very important lead in confirming the Adams lineage back through his grandfather Rev. Ezra Adams to the Robert Adams line that immigrated from Essex, England, to Ipswich, Essex County, Massachusetts, in about 1635. This was further confirmed with genetic genealogy research.

Alpheus James Adams (1845-1910) is 3rd great-grandfather of MKS in the Watne branch.

Robert Adams (1602-1682) is 10th great-grandfather of MKS in the Watne branch.

[1] The Moon, 8 Apr 1910, 1.

Source: North Dakota State Archives (newspaper obituary).

OTDIH—World War I Troopship HMS Otranto Sank After Collision

On this day in history, 6 Oct 1918, the H.M.S. Otranto, ferrying U.S. troops from New York to Europe, went down off the coast of the Isle of Islay, Scotland, just 5 weeks before the end of World War I. 470 lives were lost. [1]

A Service of Remembrance for the loss of the Otranto is being held on the Isle of Islay today, the centennial anniversary of the disaster. [2]

Many of the troops were from rural Georgia. Berrien County, Georgia, paid a terrible toll that day—25 of its sons were lost. At least three others from Berrien County survived. [6] [8] [10]

3rd cousins Pvt. Ralph Roswell Knight of Ray City, Berrien County, and Pvt. Thomas Jefferson Sirmons of Nashville, Berrien County, were two of the soldiers drowned.

Ralph is the son of Walter H. and Jimmie G. Gullette Knight, and husband of Mary Effie Guthrie Knight. Thomas is the son of Moses G. and Nancy Elizabeth Knight Sirmons. Ralph was 29 years old, and Thomas was 26 years old.

A convoy of thirteen ships, including the Otranto, had departed New York for Liverpool, England, on 24 Sep with almost 20,000 U.S. troops. The Otranto carried 1,083 men—a 380-man British crew, 701 American troops, and 2 American YMCA officers.

During the evening of 1 Oct, the convoy, with lights out, sailed straight through a fleet of French fishing vessels off the coast of Newfoundland. The Otranto accidentally rammed the fishing schooner Croisine, and rescued 37 of its crew.

British Armed Merchant Cruiser HMS Otranto.

When dawn broke on 6 Oct, in a Force 11 storm (on the Beaufort scale, a storm with 56-63 knot winds and 37-52 foot wave height), the convoy found itself just three to four miles off the coast of Islay. The convoy was sailing in six columns, each column three-tenths of a mile from the next. The convoy turned south, but the Otranto mistakenly turned north, placing the Otranto on a collision course with the S.S. Kashmir in the next column to the north.

At 8:43 a.m., the Kashmir rammed the Otranto on the port side amidships. The Otranto was cut nearly halfway through, listing 35 degrees to starboard, flooded through a hole punched in the hull below the waterline, and soon lost electrical power and propulsion. Many of the lifeboats were severely damaged and dangling from the side. The high seas prevented the launch of any of the other lifeboats.

About 45 minutes after the collision, the H.M.S. Mounsey arrived from Belfast, Ireland, on convoy escort duty and responded to SOS calls from the Otranto.  Several times, the Mounsey pulled alongside the Otranto despite the rough seas. Each time, men leapt from the Otranto onto the deck of the much smaller Mounsey. Some fell short and were crushed between the two ships. Some were immediately washed off the deck into the high seas.

Several times, the two ships struck, extensively damaging the Mounsey as well. At 11 a.m., the Mousney was too damaged to continue the rescue, and sailed for Belfast, where it docked about 12 hours after the collision. The Mounsey was able to rescue about 600 men, 12 men dying later in Belfast from their injuries.

After the Mounsey broke off rescue operations, there were no other ships in the vicinity to come to the aid of the Otranto. The Kashmir left Otranto immediately after the collision, and landed its troops at a Scottish port without loss of life. The remainder of the convoy had also continued on, obeying wartime convoy regulations to not stop.

About three hours after the collision, the Otranto—with roughly 489 men still aboard—drifted onto a reef near the entrance to Machir Bay and the high cliff walls of Rhinns Point on Islay, and quickly broke apart in the enormous waves. “A ship’s officer, whom many presumed to be Captain Davidson, was heard to shout, ‘Boys, we’ll have to swim for it after all.'” [5]

Only 21 were able to swim ashore, two dying later from their injuries. The rest perished in the sea or on the shore—including our Pvt. Ralph Knight and Pvt. Thomas Sirmons.

The best estimate of the casualty toll from the disaster is 470 men: 12 officers and 84 crewmen from the Otranto, 1 officer and 357 American enlisted men, and 6 French fishermen. Of these, the bodies of 316 Americans were recovered from the sea or shore. [1]

In additional posts, we will look at the incredible response of the people of Islay toward our troops, and meet the commander of the Mounsey.

We owe a debt of gratitude to the Ray City History Blog for introducing us to the story of our family members Pvt. Ralph Knight and Pvt. Thomas Sirmons; and say thank you to the people of the Isle of Islay for caring for them as their own 100 years ago and remembering them still today.

Pvt. Ralph Roswell Knight (1889-1918) is 2nd cousin 4x removed of MKS in the Knight branch.

Pvt. Thomas Jefferson Simons (1892-1918) is 3rd cousin 3x removed of MKS in the Knight branch.

Note: This is post 1 of 4 today about the H.M.S. Otranto disaster.

Acknowledgement: This post is primarily based on and liberally borrowed from these excellent references. The Ray City History Blog has many more posts about the Otranto.

[1] HMS Otranto, wikipedia.
[2] WW100 Islay.
[3] The Wreck of the Otranto: 6th October 1918, WW100 Islay article.
[4] The Otranto Disaster – 90 Years ago Today, Islay Blog, 6 Oct 2008.
[5] Many Were Held by the Sea: The Tragic Sinking of the HMS Otranto, by R. Neil Scott, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 18 Jun 2012.
[6] Otranto Sunk in Collision, Ray City History Blog, 11 Oct 2010.
[7] HMS Otranto Sank Ninety-Four Years Ago, Ray City History Blog, 6 Oct 2012.
[8] Oct 12, 1918 ~ 372 U.S. Soldiers Lost in Sinking of Otranto, Ray City History Blog, 12 Oct 2016.
[9] Otranto Survivor Describes Disaster, Ray City History Blog, 6 Oct 2017.
[10] Berrien County Paid Terrible Toll on the Otranto, Ray City History Blog, 6 Oct 2016.

Tenderly We Laid Them Low

On the peaceful sward full daisied,
Where the winds of ocean blow,
Shrouded in their own loved banner
Tenderly we laid them low;
And the few that Death had spared us,
To the utmost love can know;
They were tended well and bravely,
As our Gaels were wont to show.

Translated from the Gaelic poem
by Charles McNiven (Kilchoman, Islay, Scotland)

On the shore of the Isle of Islay, Scotland, the residents of the small settlement of Kilchoman—comprised of a single church, three dwellings, and a schoolhouse—watched the H.M.S. Otranto disaster unfold. Reverend Donald Grant, who first saw the Otranto out on the reef, sent word to others on the island to come through the storm—nearly hurricane strength—and help.

As described by Lord George Robertson, Police Sergeant Malcolm MacNeill from Bowmore later reported to his superiors of their heroic efforts: [2]

Sir, The following people took an active part in the rescue of survivors from the water, and afterwards materially assisted them in recovering from the effects of their long and terrible exposure. The first persons on the scene so far as I am able to ascertain were David McTaggart, farmer Kilearan, who had previously to this dispatched horse and van for life saving apparatus and Donald McLachan, ploughman. These two men brought three survivors out of the water with the aid of a long broom handle. One girl, Kate McLellan, Coulerach, in my opinion deserves special mention. She happened to be on the rocks when the McPhee boys rescued the first three survivors, one of whom was scantily clad. The girl at once in the midst of hail and sleet stripped off her own overcoat and wrapped it round the rescued soldier.’

In another report he filed on the wreck, my grandfather made a point of commending the ordinary folk of Islay who—though they themselves had so little to give—gave so generously to help the men cast upon their shore. He praises the many elderly women who provided soup and other food to the survivors despite ongoing food shortages caused by the war effort.

Lord George Robertson

Only 21 of the 489 men on the Otranto when it broke apart made it to shore alive. Two of those died soon after.

The next day, the islanders began searching the cliffs and water for more survivors and bodies. Everyone on the island who was able participated. Two Red Cross groups and 30 British soldiers arrived over the next week to help. 20 America soldiers arrived and were assigned to build coffins.

Red Cross and Soldiers search for Otranto Victims, Machir Bay, Isle of Islay, Scotland, Courtesy U.S. National Archives.

No more survivors were found—only bodies, hundreds of bodies amongst enormous piles of wreckage, almost all of which was jammed into deep gullies at the base of the cliffs.

Search for bodies of Otranto Victims, Machir Bay, Isle of Islay, Scotland, Courtesy U.S. National Archives.

Over the coming weeks, the bodies of 315 Americans were recovered on Islay. Several weeks later, one more was recovered on the nearby island of Muck.

Unfortunately, this was not the first time Islay faced such circumstances, and responded heroically. On 5 Feb 1918, just eight months earlier, the SS Tuscania was torpedo by the German U-boat UB-77 off the coast of Islay. 210 troops and crew were lost. Over 2,000 were rescued. Many of the same residents of Islay assisted its survivors also. Islay, with a population of around 6,000, also lost over 200 of its own sons during World War I.

On 11 Oct, a funeral was held on Islay for the first 46 British and French sailors and 120 Americans recovered. 52 of them were unidentified. They were buried on top of the cliff that overlooks the reef where the Otranto broke apart. Rev. Donald Grant, who first sounded the alarm across Islay, conducted the funeral.

There were only three coffins on the island at this point. One was used for the Captain of the Otranto, the other two for two officers. The rest were buried under a light layer of dirt.

Six days later, on 17 Oct, a second funeral was held. The 172 from the first funeral were reburied in coffins along with another 108 recovered after the first funeral.

As other bodies were found, they, too, were brought to the churchyard, examined, and taken to the growing cemetery for burial. Reverend Grant officiated at all of the funerals, sometimes conducting services for six or eight, then three or four, and later for only one at a time, until –– in the end –– 315 American soldiers had found a resting place in the rocky soil of Islay.

R. Neil Scott, Many Were Held by the Sea

On 11 Oct, another funeral was held in Belfast, Ireland, for 17 men who were rescued by the H.M.S. Mounsey but subsequently died. After a procession through the city, they were interred in City Cemetery, Belfast.

Funeral possession for 12 Otranto Victims, 11 Oct 1918, Belfast, Ireland.

Lord Robertson describes Police Sergeant MacNeill’s correspondence with the families of the deceased in the United States and England: [4]

… it was his responsibility to report what had happened, and to undertake the distressing job of logging the bodies, noting any distinguishing marks that could help identify the drowned men.

His notebooks, which I have donated to the Museum of Islay Life, make powerful reading. In them, in meticulous copperplate, he records descriptions of the bodies washed ashore, savagely battered by the rocks. Many were identifiable only by their tattoos or the military tags they wore. One entry reads ’25-year-old male. Tattoo of ‘Mum’ on right arm. No other identifying marks.’ There were so many dead bodies that their descriptions filled 81 pages in his notebook.

When the bodies were finally buried, it fell to my grandfather to correspond with the families in the United States, who were desperate for news of their loved ones. They wrote from Georgia, from the Midwest and from the northeastern states, providing information about birthmarks or prized watches, which they hoped could be used to identify the bodies of their sons, husbands or brothers. My grandfather, in an extraordinary example of compassionate public service, replied to each letter, providing what information he could. Often, sadly, there was little information that he could pass on.

His work was applauded by the American Red Cross and at the end of the war he was awarded the MBE for his actions on those terrible nights.

MacNeill also cataloged the personal effects of each man, and these were sent to each man’s family.

In 1919, the American Red Cross erected the American Monument on the Isle of Islay to commemorate the loss of the Tuscania and Otranto. The monument is built in the shape of a lighthouse, and stands on a high cliff on the Oa Peninsula, overlooking the spot where the Tuscania sunk.

American Monument to the Tuscania and Otranto, Isle of Islay, Scotland.

In 1920, all but one of the 315 Americans buried at Kilchoman were returned to the United States. Pvt. Thomas Sirmons’ body was one of those recovered, initially buried at Kilchoman, and later returned to Georgia.

73 British sailors and marines, and one British merchant sailor from the Otranto and Tuscania remain in the Kilchoman Military Cemetery, of whom 71 were from the Otranto.

Military Cemetery, Kilchoman, Isle of Islay, Scotland.

Pvt. Thomas Jefferson Simons (1892-1918) is 3rd cousin 3x removed of MKS in the Knight branch.

Pvt. Ralph Roswell Knight (1889-1918) is 2nd cousin 4x removed of MKS in the Knight branch.

Note: This is post 2 of 4 today about the H.M.S. Otranto disaster.

Acknowledgement: This post is primarily based on and liberally borrowed from these excellent references. The Ray City History Blog has many more posts about the Otranto.

[1]  Charles McNiven’s Gaelic poem from Many Were Held by the Sea: The Tragic Sinking of the HMS Otranto, by R. Neil Scott, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 18 Jun 2012.
[2] Many Were Held by the Sea: The Tragic Sinking of the HMS Otranto, by R. Neil Scott, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 18 Jun 2012.
[3] The Wreck of the Otranto: 6th October 1918, WW100 Islay Article.
[4] The Loss of the Troopships Tuscania and Otranto, Islay Blog.
[5] Burial of the Otranto Victims, Ray City History Blog, 15 Oct 2010.
[6] Islay Remembered Otranto Soldiers at Christmas Time, Ray City History Blog, 24 Dec 2012.
[7] The Long Trip Home, Ray City History Blog, 29 May 2011.
[8] The Passing Legions—How the American Red Cross Met the American Army in Great Britian, the Gateway to France, by George Buchanan Fife, The MacMillan Company, 1920.

A Gaelic Poem—In Memory of the Otranto Disaster off Islay, 6 Oct 1918

Twas the latest month of Autumn,
The sixth day as I recall,
When we hailed the ship Otranto
With full freight and heroes all;
They left home to fight for justice,
Liberty had heard the call,
And the Stripes were now unfurling
On the war-torn fields of Gaul.

Little thought they when they parted
From their friends beyond the main,
That upon the shores of Islay
Soon that Death would make his claim;
Though they fought not in the battle,
Nor did the strife descend,
Far from dear ones, home and kindred,
Still they met a hero’s end.

On the peaceful sward full daisied,
Where the winds of ocean blow,
Shrouded in their own loved banner
Tenderly we laid them low;
And the few that Death had spared us,
To the utmost love can know;
They were tended well and bravely,
As our Gaels were wont to show.

Many are the loving mothers
That now mourn the sons they bore,
Many are the winsome maidens
Lost their loved ones on yon shore.
Never more with hearty greetings
Will they meet then on the Strand,
For alas! They now lie sleeping,
‘Neath the flowers in a distant land.

Till the last dread trump be sounded,
Never will Columbus’ Land
Cease to think with pride, but sadly,
Of green Islay’s distant strand.
There the brave ones in their hundreds
Sleep beneath its grassy sod,
Till they waken on yon morning
In the skies to meet their God.

Translated from the Gaelic poem
by Charles McNiven (Kilchoman, Islay, Scotland)

Note: This is post 3 of 4 today about the H.M.S. Otranto disaster.

Source: Many Were Held by the Sea: The Tragic Sinking of the HMS Otranto, by R. Neil Scott, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 18 Jun 2012 (poem).

Lt. Francis W. Craven, Commander of the HMS Mounsey

But for the actions of the destroyer H.M.S. Mounsey on 6 Oct 1918, the death toll from the H.M.S. Otranto might have been a thousand.

The Mounsey was commanded by Lieutenant Francis Worthington Craven, age 29, of the British Royal Navy.

Pvt. Lonzon Sheley aboard the Otranto recalled many years later that, as the Mounsey approached even more closely, an officer aboard the Otranto— who he assumed was Captain Davidson— used a megaphone to warn Craven on the Mounsey to keep his distance. Instead, he heard Craven’s reply:

‘Be calm boys, I am coming to you.’

Craven then signaled to the Otranto:

‘Please lower your lee boats to act as fenders. I am coming alongside.’

One of the American survivors, Pvt. Charles Von Waldner, recalled later that when the small destroyer tried to come alongside the Otranto, to the hundreds of men watching, the action seemed suicidal.

Many Were Held by the Sea [1]

The much smaller 896-ton Mounsey (vs. the 12,124-ton Otranto) was so severely damaged in the rescue operation that it did not go out on active service again.

For his actions, Lt. Craven was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (United Kingdom), the Distinguished Service Medal (United States), and the Navy Cross (United States Navy).

The citation for the Distinguished Service Order reads:

In recognition of his services when HMS OTRANTO was wrecked on the 6th October 1918. HMS OTRANTO was damaged in collision with the SS KASHMIR whilst carrying a large number of American troops. Lieutenant Craven displayed magnificent courage and seamanship in placing HMS MOUNSEY alongside HMS OTRANTO in spite of the fact that the conditions of wind, weather and sea were exceptionally severe. After going alongside and embarking a certain number of men it was reported that the MOUNSEY had sustained considerable damage, and that there was a large quantity of water in the engine room. Lieutenant Craven, therefore, left the OTRANTO but on finding the damage was not so serious as had been reported, he again went alongside, though he had previously experienced great difficulty in getting away. His action resulted in the saving of over 600 lives which would otherwise have certainly been lost. His performance was a remarkable one, and in personal courage, coolness and seamanship ranks in the very highest order.

The citation for the Distinguished Service Medal reads:

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Army Distinguished Service Medal to Lieutenant Francis W. Craven, British Royal Navy, for exceptionally meritorious and distinguished service in a position of great responsibility to the Government of the United States, during World War I. While Commanding His Majesty’s destroyer MOUNSEY, Lieutenant Craven rescued 7 officers and 313 men of the American forces at sea on 16 October 1918.

Two other Mounsey officers were also decorated: Lt. Raymond Benson Stewart and Sub-Lt. Wilfrid Edmund Warner were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross by the British government for their heroic actions.

Note: This is post 4 of 4 today about the H.M.S. Otranto disaster.

[1] Many Were Held by the Sea: The Tragic Sinking of the HMS Otranto, by R. Neil Scott, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 18 Jun 2012.