Saturday, February 12, 2011

In Honor of International Darwin Day

Part of the fun of doing genealogy is finding interesting and sometimes unexpected connections between the people you’re researching and other interesting – and much better known - people.  Since I’m committed to probing all the nooks and crannies of my grandchildren’s family history, I often uncover some interesting documents and fascinating family connections as well. 

Here’s one to celebrate “International Darwin Day”.  [Note:  It’s longer than usual, but that’s because it’s complicated.]

Nathan Appleton by Gilbert Stuart
Two of the grandkids’ 64 great-great-great- great grandparents were Nathan Appleton of Boston and his second wife Harriot Coffin Sumner, the daughter of Jesse Sumner of Boston and Harriot Coffin of Portland, Maine.  Appleton (1779 – 1861) was a noted merchant turned industrialist & banker and also a member of Congress who along with other investors (now known collectively by historians as the “Boston Associates”) introduced the power loom to America, established cotton mills at Waltham and founded the mill city of Lowell, Massachusetts, thus revolutionizing the American factory system. 

Longfellow and his family
With his first wife Maria Theresa Gold (who died in 1833), Nathan Appleton had five children, three of whom lived to adulthood.  Those three children were author/essayist/artist Thomas Gold Appleton (1812 – 1884), who never married, Frances Elizabeth Appleton (1817 – 1861) who married Harvard professor and famous poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Mary Appleton (1813 - 1889) who married Robert James Mackintosh, the son and biographer of Sir James Mackintosh, member of Parliament, political philosopher, historian, rector of the University of Glasgow and sometime chief judge of Bombay. Mary Appleton’s husband Robert Mackintosh served as the colonial governor of Antiqua in the Caribbean’s Leeward Islands.

Throughout their lives, the Appleton siblings – whether half or full sibs - all maintained close contact with one another, either by letter or in person. In fact, as you will see, letters are a key element of this “Darwin Day” story. 

It is worthy of note that both Thomas Gold Appleton and his sister Frances were listed in the Mackintoshes’ Regents Park, London household in the English census of 1841 (see below) while they were visiting their sister.  Thomas and Frances's entries are easily found by looking for the "F" in the last column - indicating that they were born in "Foreign Parts".

 Their father’s second family in Boston was just beginning -  with the birth of their half-sister Harriot  in November 0f 1841.

Meanwhile, back in England, because of their family connections, the English Mackintoshes were traveling in interesting circles.  Mary Appleton Mackintosh’s father-in-law, Sir James Mackintosh,  was one of the most distinguished statesmen of his time.  Like Nathan Appleton, Sir James had children by two wives, with Mary’s husband Robert being a child of his second marriage.  Sir James’ second wife (and thus Mary Appleton Mackintosh’s mother-in-law) was Catherine Allen.  She had a sister Elizabeth who was married to Josiah Wedgwood the Younger.  Wedgwood was the son of Josiah Wedgwood of Etruria, the famous potter and founder of the Wedgwood pottery dynasty. 
Josiah Wedgwood the Elder

Elizabeth Allen and Josiah Wedgwood the Younger had a daughter named Emma Wedgwood, who was Robert Mackintosh’s first cousin. Further cementing this Allen – Wedgwood - Mackintosh family relationship, Emma’s brother Hensleigh Wedgwood married Robert Mackintosh’s sister Fanny. Thus, the Mackintoshes and the Wedgwoods were very closely connected.

Then, on 29 January 1839, to further complicate the family tree, Emma Wedgwood married her own first cousin with his own Wedgwood connection – a young man who was the son of her father’s sister Susannah Wedgwood. Emma’s husband was a former medical student turned theology student turned natural scientist.  

Eight years earlier, he had sailed off to far-off places with strange names - the Galapagos Islands, Tasmania and Patagonia -  in search of “specimens.”  The ship he sailed aboard was called the “Beagle” and the young scientist’s name was Charles Robert Darwin, who was born 202 years ago today. 

Charles Robert Darwin (1809 - 1882)

In November of 1859, twenty years after his marriage to Emma Wedgwood, Darwin published “On the Origin of Species”; all the 1250 copies that were printed were fully subscribed before publication. 

While the Darwin family of England and the Appleton family of Boston were not themselves related, they shared mutual connections through their Allen – Wedgwood - Mackintosh relations.  In fact, a number of the published letters of both Charles Darwin and his wife Emma contain references to Mary Appleton Mackintosh and her children – who were regular visitors at the Darwin’s home - as well as her brother Thomas Gold Appleton of Boston, who visited Darwin on several occasions.
Recently, an original manuscript letter from Charles Darwin to Thomas Gold Appleton dated 31 March 1846 appeared on the manuscript market. The letter was not included in the previously published edition of collected Darwin letters.

Thomas Gold Appleton
In this letter, Darwin was responding to Tom Appleton’s gift of a copy of the “Report of the Exploring Expeditions to the Rocky Mountains” by John C. Frémont.

He wrote to Appleton about his sister Mary and her family, observing, “Some not long time since we had a visit from Mrs. Mackintosh & Robert, with only the Baby as the other children were a little unwell. Your sister looked decidedly better than when I last saw her before, but yet sadly delicate - I hope to hear of her paying you a visit at Boston this summer.

That’s the neat thing about family history; you never know when or where a small, previously unknown piece of family arcana will surface.  A handwritten Charles Darwin letter to the grandkids’ 3th great-grand Uncle Tom Appleton mentioning “sadly delicate” 3rd great grand aunt Mary and their little Mackintosh cousins would be a nice addition to their family archive. 

Now, if I can just find the spare $10,000.00 to buy it….

No comments:

Post a Comment