29 Sep 2011

Part 9: Seeking a better life?

Great-great-grandfather, Thomas Swinfield, baptised in 1808 at Earl Shilton, was last heard of living at Town Street, Calverton, Notts, living with Maria, his “wife”, and their 11 year-old daughter, Elizabeth. There is no record of a death of either Thomas or Maria in England and Wales and no reference to a marriage for their child. None of these three can be identified living here at the time of the 1861 and subsequent censuses. Had they disappeared or changed their names?
Thomas's naturalisation card of 1864
1860 census of Portsmouth, New Hampshire 
After having looked for the fate of this man for nearly 40 years, since beginning my study of the Swinfield family, Ancestry’s index to American census records revealed the solution to this mystery. Thomas G. Swinfield, aged 52 and a stocking weaver, was living in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in June 1860. With him were Maria Swinfield, who was 53, and John and Elizabeth Warburton, all born in England. They had emigrated, presumably to find a better life on the other side of the Atlantic. The same website includes an image of this naturalisation record issued at Exeter, New Hampshire, on 5th March 1867. He had arrived in the US on 11th June 1854. The card even records his, previously unknown, date of birth as 2nd April 1808! There is no online record which tells us on what ship he, and presumably his family, sailed and from where.
1880 census of Portsmoth, New Hampshire
1876 Marriage
In 1870, the census shows that he was still in Portsmouth, but was now apparently married to Amy, also an English woman. By 1880, his wife had changed once more, she now being Charlotte from Nova Scotia. Records for that state reveal that at least he waited for the death of Sarah at home in England in 1862, before he married Ammy Welch in 1866 and Charlotte Ann Fraser in 1876. Was he made aware that his estranged wife had passed away, leaving him free to marry again? Thomas does not seem to have been too successful in relationships. By 1888, the Portsmouth city directories indicate that Mrs Charlotte Swinfield had left the house on Islington Street to board at 48 Pleasant. Strangely, no deaths or remarriages are recorded for any of the women who he lived with in America. They are not listed in censuses after they separated either! What became of them, I wonder?
Thomas's death in 1893
With the help of David Dearborn of the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston, I learned that Thomas G. Swinfield did well there. He was recorded as a party to 11 land transfer deeds from 1869 to 1892. These can all be viewed online. In 1894, his grandson, William J. Warburton was signatory to another document which stated that Thomas’s will was proved on 9th January 1894. 

David abstracted the will, a copy of which is in the NEHGS Library. Thomas bequeathed the westerly half of his house to his daughter, Elizabeth, and the eastern half to his grandson. The property still stands to this day on the corner of Islington Street and Barberry Lane.

Thomas died on 1st June 1893, aged 85 years and 2 months of “old age” and was buried in Proprietor’s Cemetery, Portsmouth. At last, I know what happened to great-great-granddad!

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