06 September 2009

Black Sheep Sunday

I know I must have lots of ancestors who were badly behaved. We all must. I guess I am a bit of a black sheep, too, or I would have published this on Sunday, instead of Monday, heh heh heh.

One of my favorite bad boys was Nicholas Colby. He was born in Amesbury, Mass., son of Nicholas Colby and [Mrs.] Judith Wells, on 22 October 1777, according to the Amesbury published vital records [Mass VRs to 1850 at newenglandancestors.org].

I needed to prove the parentage of my known ancestor Nathan Colby, a sailor from Haverhill. The death record gives his parents as Nicholas Colby and Elisabeth ["Mass. Vital Records 1841-1910 NEHGS (newenglandancestors.org : accessed 7 Sep 2009; Deaths 1853:75:125]. There is only one Nicholas Colby in the area who married an Elizabeth recorded at that time: Elizabeth Kimball in 1796 [Mass VRs to 1850 at newenglandancestors.org]. However, there are several reasons why they don't work out as parents of my Nathan, so the work continues. But because something feels familiar about this character, I'm willing to be that he is my ancestor.

Sadly, the entry for Nicholas in the Colby Family in Early America by Frederick Weiss is flawed. It both combines and omits some of the children of two Nicholases, and one is from Lynn. My Nathan does not appear. The late Greg Laing, wonderful librarian at the Haverhill library, confirmed my suspicions about the poor scholarship in the book, and had even edited in his own corrections in his copy of the book. In the course of working out these relationships, I discovered that at least one of these Nicholas' was naughty!

I must return to the Haverhill Library and retrieve notes I lost in a computer failure, but according to an oral account taken down on an anniversary of the town in about 1888 [?] Nicholas would sit on the banks of the Merrimack River and intimidate children. He was described as small and dark, with a temper. He used to sit beside the Merrimac and tell the little ones not to throw stones in the river because they’d stop it up and they thought he owned the whole river. He happens also to be a major brick wall, so he gets double points. I wanted to use him in my certification portfolio first time around, but the brick wall, alas, was too high and too thick and my time too limited. [Update: I did use him in my 2013 renewal, but it was a vast undertaking.]

A notice of his death gives a little insight into why he might have had troubles. Like many black sheep, there was probably a physical cause for his inability to conform: “Sudden Death.–– We learn from the Amesbury Transcript that Mr. Nicholas Colby, of that town, was found dead on Sunday afternoon week, near the house of Mr. Page Ring. He was subject to apoplectic fits, and it is supposed had one on his return from the village, and falling into water by the road side was drowned.” [Haverhill, MA] Date: 1845-04-17; Paper: Sun, genealogybank.com] [Update: turns out this was another Nicholas!]


To end on a note of positive redemption, I am fervently hoping that the Nicholas described in the following account is mine. His father was still alive at this time, but would have been too old to have performed in such a manner. This is from the History of Haverhill, Massachusetts by George W. Chase (Haverhill, Mass, 1861).

On 24 May 1807, in the middle of a terrible nor'easter, a scow capsized and six out the eleven men in it were instantly drowned. After the boat capsized, Nicholas Colby, who was a good swimmer, succeeded in getting the remaining "four upon the bottom of the scow, which barely kept afloat. He tried hard to save Hoyt, who clung to him, while beneath the surface, with a death grasp, but finding his strength rapidly failing he was obliged to exert his whole remaining force in tearing himself from the drowning man; and, having nearly exhausted himself in his efforts, Colby endeavored to persuade Moses Kimball, who could swim, to swim ashore and find help, as it was evident the wreck could not long be kept afloat. But Kimball’s brother positively forbid his making the attempt. Finding all entreaty unavailing, Colby at length resolved to make the attempt himself, though scarce expecting to be able to reach the land, and bidding them good-bye, he struck out for the shore. John Ingersoll, of the Rocks’ Village, a young man lately returned from sea, observing the severity of the storm, and having a curiosity to see its effect upon the river, was that morning walking along the shore, when he suddenly came upon a man feebly clinging to a rock near the water’s edge. It was Colby, too much exhausted to drag himself out of the water, or even to speak aloud. With great difficulty, the brave man explained the perilous situation of his companions. Ingersoll immediately ran to the village below, gave the alarm, and, after trying in vain to induce some one to assist him in the attempt, embarked alone in a small skiff, and after great peril succeeded in finding and saving the four persons on the wreck! Surely the names of Nicholas Colby and John Ingersoll well deserve an honorable place in our history. They have it, and may their noble example never be forgotten by their posterity.”

And may every black sheep have his redeeming qualities!

1 comment:

PFK said...

Yikes, this keeps losing the newspaper articles I copied and pasted in. Not very good on formatting yet. I've fixed it once. If you really want more info, let me know!