The American Connection

In researching the family history I came across an interesting headstone in the Parish Church in Great Harwood.  
The grave was for a Calvert family and the inscription was as follows :

Robert 1901 Jan 27th 1901 interred at Fall River, Mass. U.S.A.
Catherine 1901 Jan 27th 1901 interred at Fall River, Mass. U.S.A.
Margaret Ann 1863  
William 1871  
Margaret Hannah 1873  

Eventually I matched the family as Robert Calvert (Bn 1837) and his wife Christine Baron (Bn 1842) and three of their children. I wondered why they were buried in the USA, but Fall River rang a bell in my memory as I had recently read a book called The Road to Nab End by William Woodruff from Blackburn whose family emigrated to Fall River as weavers in the early 20th century.

What emerged was interesting and quite tragic.

Robert and Catherine, who lived in Great Harwood, had four children three of whom died in infancy and were buried in St Bartholemews churchyard. Margaret Ann was 4 month old when she died, William survived to the age of 6 and Margaret Hannah died shortly before her first birthday. Their fourth child was named Turner Calvert, after a nickname of Robert's father, Thomas, who was known as Turner throughout his life, Robert also had a brother who was named Turner. Turner (the son) was born in 1867.

Turner became a weaver, the main employment at that time in the town, and in 1887 he married Annie Reynolds, also a weaver in a cotton mill. Annie seems to have an unorthodox heritage, her mother was Eliza J Reynolds and Eliza's grandmother was Elizabeth Perry who was born in Gibraltar. The term Grandmother seems a little suspect here as Elizabeth was only 21 years older than Eliza. I think Annie was illegitimate because Eliza J also had a sister called Margaret J Reynolds and if Reynolds was Eliza's married name her sister would not have been called Reynolds. Annie had been born in 1868 she had a brother, John,  born in 1869 and a sister, Matilda, in 1873, these all bore the Reynolds name. In 1872, however Eliza had married John Allen and they had a daughter Isabella Allen in 1875 (it is unclear why Matilda was a Reynolds being born after Eliza's marriage to John Allen). Isabella crops up later in the story which is why I have taken time over the immediate family of Turner Calvert's wife, Annie. In looking at the census returns a bit more confusion sets in - in the 1871 and 1891 census Annie is shown as being born in Manchester and her brother John in Halifax, however in 1881 they are both shown as being born in America. If the American heritage were true it might explain some later events.

Annie lived in Rishton, then later at Tottleworth. It was while living at Tottleworth that she met and  married Turner.  They lived in Great Harwood where they had two sons - William Reynolds Calvert (bn 1888) and Robert Bertram Calvert (bn 1890). Where the name Bertram came from is a mystery.

The late 19th century was a time of poor trade in the cotton industry and many Lancashire weavers were emigrating to America where skilled weavers were in demand. In 1893 Turner emigrated with his wife Annie & their two children on the SS Pavonia from Liverpool to Boston, arriving on 21 Feb 1893. Accompanying them, according to the passenger manifest was Isabella Calvert, in reality this was Isabella Allen, Annie's half sister (or possibly sister as we don't know who Annie's father was) who seems to have adopted the name of Calvert either for the sake of decency or possibly because a better fare could be obtained for "families". Isabella was another weaver, obviously seeking work.

On arrival in the USA Turner, his wife and sons settled in Lincoln Town, Rhode Island. I can find no further trace of Isabella who may have married soon after arrival.

Emigration fever had gripped the Calvert family and word must have been sent back to Lancashire of the ease of getting work in America, because a few months later in May 1893 Turner's parents, Robert & Catherine emigrated to the USA, again on SS Pavonia from Liverpool to Boston. They arrived on 7 May 1893, their destination being shown as Rhode Island. On the same boat were Elizabeth Perry, Eliza J Reynolds and Annie's sister - Matilda Reynolds also bound for Rhode Island. By then Robert would have been 56 but his age as shown on passenger manifest was 48, similarly with Catherine who would have been 51 her declared age was 46. They probably shaved a few years off their ages for reasons of emigration policy. Robert & Catherine settled in a tenement at 12 Orswell St, Fall River, Massachusetts where they both worked as Weavers at Osborn Mill.

Then in 1901 tragedy struck. On 28 January it appears that Robert & Catherine retired to bed in their tenement leaving a gas fire burning. Sometime during the night the fire was extinguished and gas leaked into the bedroom. Catherine got out of bed, presumably to shut off the gas, but was overcome by it. Their bodies were discovered the following day when a neighbour, William Higginson, became suspicious of the smell of gas and called the police who broke into the apartment.

Robert & Catherine were buried at Oak Grove cemetery following a service in St Stephens church.

Shortly after the deaths Turner returned briefly to England, presumably to attend to the family affairs back home. Perhaps that was when he arranged for the additions to the headstone in St Bartholemews church which initially interested me in the story. Turner returned from Liverpool to Boston on the SS Commonwealth on 28 March 1901. He died eight years later at the early age of 42. I have been unable to discover the fate of Annie, she would have been 41 at the time of Turners death and may have remarried.

William Reynolds, the elder of Turner and Leona's sons went on to work in the Navy.  In 1930 he lived in Honolulu, Hawaii working for the US Navy Supply Corps, in 1935 he was a Lieutenant Commander and returned to Seattle from Hong Kong on the SS President Jefferson, with a home address shown as c/o Navy Dept, Washington.

The second of the two sons, Robert Bertram  worked for AT&T in Hartford, Connecticut initially as a Telegraph Operator and advancing to Wire Chief. In 1921 he married a Supervisor at the telephone company, Leona M Taylor from Clinton, Connecticut. They had two sons, Robert B Calvert (possibly another Bertram) in 1924 and John N Calvert in 1926. Robert Snr. had a leg amputated before 1917 and was exempted from the military drafts in both WW I and WW II. Robert Snr. seem ambivalent about his place of birth (shades of his mother Annie Reynolds, who at one stage was said to be born in America). His 1917 draft papers show him a born in Harwood, England; however the 1910 and 1920 censuses show him as born in Rhode Island, if fact in 1920 he was showing both his parents as having been born in Rhode Island. He seems though to have made the best of his time as a "Wire Chief" with the Telegraph company as later in life he moved on to being a financial trader and  investment manager. He died in 1968 and his wife Leona in 1989.

Robert B (Jnr.) Joined the US Army Air Corps at Hartford, CT. in 1942. He died Died 12 Jun 2002 at Meriden, New Haven, Connecticut.

John N Joined the US Army on 27 Jun 1945 at the age of 18 on leaving High School. I have been unable to trace him further than that, he may even be alive today.
Acknowledgements :
I am indebted to a fellow researcher, Sheila Schofield from Accrington, who supplied me with newspaper cuttings from Fall River without which this story would not have been worth telling.
Robert Calvert 
28 February 2007