Cordelia Stanwood, unmarried: a hidden gem in the family tree


Cordelia Stanwood, my favorite non-ancestor!

New genealogists often overlook the unmarried folks in their family trees.  After all, there are no offspring to track or trace.  However, these unmarried aunts and uncles, cousins and kinfolk, can have stories just as interesting as those of our ancestors, and just as deserving of being told and preserved for generations to come.   Just as important – often these unmarried relatives hold pieces to our genealogical puzzles, or have interesting information that make our own ancestors come alive.

Cordelia J. Stanwood is my third cousin, four times removed.  (It is her great grandfather’s headstone I’m posed next to in the post, Twenty Tips for Living with the Obsessed Genealogist.)  I never met Cordelia – she was born in Ellsworth, Maine on 1 August 1865, and died in 1958, several years before my own birth.  However I would have enjoyed meeting her.  One of the first female ornithologists in the U.S., she was also an author, a photographer, and….drum roll please…a genealogist.

From the web site, we have a wonderful summary of Cordelia’s many endeavors and talents:

Cordie marketed her bird life histories in highly scientific and popularized magazines from the Audubon Society’s Bird Lore, to Blue Bird, Nature and Culture, and House Beautiful, among others. In addition to focusing her literary and photojournalistic skills on birds and nature, Cordie also produced stories on antiques and architecture capturing an elegant, but fading piece of Maine’s old homes in the Ellsworth, Blue Hill, and the Castine area. In 1916, Cordie taught herself photography, and with a boxy, Eastman Kodak No.5 glass-plate camera dramatically documented her research.

It was Cordelia’s reputation for her work in ornithology that first drew me and my mother to this incredible woman.  Visiting Maine in 2004, we stopped at Birdsacre, the Stanwood Wildlife Sanctuary, to see where our cousin had lived, and to learn more about the work she had done.  Her passion for birds is best represented by her own beautiful writing:

When the thrush speaks to me, it seems as if the rags and tatters that enshroud my soul fall away and leave it naked. Then I must be simple and true or I cannot feel the message the small voice brings to me. When the thrush sings, I desire to live in a small, scrupulously neat camp, open to the sun and the wind and the voices of the birds. I would like to spend eternity thus, listening to the song of the thrush.

One cannot help but wonder about the genetic component of certain interests.  You see, my grandmother and my mother were both very passionate birders.  My son and I share the same love of our feathered friends, and love nothing more than to be outside amidst nature, listening to their song.  My house is surrounded by feeders of all types, and while my photography skills fall far short of Cordelia’s I love capturing pictures of the wildlife around our home.  Is this a Stanwood trait?  I would like to think so.  🙂

Photo of a red-bellied woodpecker at my feeder.  Have I inherited a love of photography and birds?

Photo of a red-bellied woodpecker at my feeder. Have I inherited a love of photography and birds?

Cordelia, the genealogist
In addition to spending hours in the woods, photographing birds, and then spending an equal amount of time writing about her subjects, Cordelia was also an active genealogist.  My family lines were greatly benefited by her collaboration with Ethel Stanwood Bolton, the author of The History of the Stanwood Family in America, published in 1899.


How lucky I am to have my own copy of this incredible, 1899 book to which Cordelia contributed!

Cordelia’s research and notes were shared with the author, expanding branches of the Stanwood family tree to Job Stanwood, our common ancestor who is famous for his participation in the Louisburg expedition, in which he lost his left arm.

Job  would be proud of Cordelia.  She told his story, and preserved it for all generations in an article she penned for the Lewiston Journal.  (Download complete, transcribed article article here.)  Interested in much more than dates, places and children, Cordelia gave me the gift of knowing my sixth great grandparents, Job and Martha (Bradstreet) Stanwood in her description of their lives and their marriage:

We judge that Job was a man of some education from the fact not only that he could write his name clearly but that he married a refined educated woman in spite of the fact that he was crippled by the loss of his left arm during the siege of Louisburg in 1745, when but eighteen years of age, and his health completely undermined thru the hardships he endured in Captain Samuel Davis’ Company in Colonel Hale’s regiment.  That he never fully recovered his health is attested by five petitions for pensions recorded in the Massachusetts archives.  These petitions were granted and it is from one of the petitions Job Stanwood’s signatures (sic) is copied.

His occupation in Gloucester after the return from the taking of Louisburg was that of Shoreman.  This is recorded in a deed at Salem, Mass.

Job Stanwood married Hannah Byles, September 14, 1749.  They had one son, Zebulon, who married, lived and died in Gloucester.  His will indicated that he was rather prosperous.  The present head of that branch of the family is Mr. James B. Stanwood of Cincinnati, Ohio.  Hannah Byles died at the age of twenty-four years.

For his second wife Job chose Martha Bradstreet.  They were married sometime before 1755.

Three children were born to them in Gloucester:  Hannah Byles, baptized November 25, 1755; Job, baptized November 5, 1758; married October 24, 1786, Lydia Gardner; Samuel, baptized October 11, 1761.

In the following year, Job and Martha disposed of their property in Gloucester.  Only recently among some old papers in the possession of the Historical Society of Portland, Maine, has a deed of Job’s next farm come to light.  This was discovered by Professor Willis Otis Sawtelle of Islesboro, Maine, who is writing a history of Mount Desert.  It seems that Professor Sawtelle’s own estate on Cranberry Isle is part of the old Job Stanwood farm.  The document was made out in about 1762…

Cordelia continues:

At Duck Brook on January 19, 17__ (illegible) to Job and Martha Bradstreet Stanwood was born a son, Benjamin Bradstreet, and in due time the home was gladdened by the coming of Humphrey Bradstreet, Enoch, Tichburn, David, Sarah, and Esther.

From the town records of Mount Desert we obtain one item that shows the standing of Job in the town.  The list of subscribers for the purchase of the town book discloses the names of the leading citizens at the time of organization.  Among them we find the name of Job Stanwood.

“March 30, 1776.
In district meeting assembled according to the fore-going warrant….
7.  Voted that a book be provided for records by subscription.”

“Mount Desert, March 30, 1776.
Subscriptions for a Town Book paid to James Richardson, Treasurer.
Capt. Ezra Young, 2s, 10d; Stephen Richardson, 1s;  Abraham Somes, 1s 4d; John Thomas, jr., 1s, 3d;  Josiah Black, 6d; Timothy Smallidge, 6d; Daniel Gott, 1s; Levi Higgins, 1s, 6d; Silas Parker, 1s; James Burril, 1s, 2d; Peter Gott, 1s.  Ezra Leland, 7d; Thomas Richardson, jr., 1s; Elisha Cousins, 1s, 6d; John Hamor, 1s; Ebenezer Salisburyq (sic), jr., 1s, 2d; John Thomas, 1s, 3d; Thomas Richardson, 1s, 4d; Job Stanwood, 1s, 6d; Joshua Norwood, 1s; Silas Bunker, 1s; Thomas Wasgatt, jr., 1s; Caleb Phinney, 1s; Nathan Scammon, 1s; Simeon Handley, 1s.

On the 27th day of July of this same year, a few days after the Declaration of Independence was signed, Job Stanwood died in his forty-ninth year.

Job Stanwood seems to have inherited the characteristics of his great-grandfather, Philip the 1st, to a greater degree than either his father or grandfather.  He was the intrepid soldier in the day of need and the good and dependable citizen.

Married Woman of Education
The fact the leads me to respect Job more than any other is his wisdom shown in the choice of an intelligent helpmate.  That Martha Bradstreet, the wife of Job Stanwood, was unusually well educated was a matter frequently referred to by her descendants.  My grandmother, Mrs. Solomon Stanwood, related that the neighbors described Mrs. Job Stanwood not only as a woman with an uncommonly good education but they declared that she even wrote poetry.

That Job appreciated these qualities in his wife is evident from the fact that he quoted her wise sayings and referred to her good judgment so frequently as to excite the smiles of the neighbors.  Many trifles point to a wise and sweet disposition in Martha.  For instance, I notice that the first daughter is named Hannah Byles for the young wife who died at the age of twenty-four years.

Another indication of her tact is seen in her naming the second child for Job himself.  Further wisdom may be observed in the naming of their third child, Samuel, for the boy who listened for the commands of the Lord.  Even then they were considering founding a new home in the wilderness, a man with one arm and wretched health, with a wife and family for to provide.  But I fancy that even the capable Martha had her moments of discouragement and that when she was far away from her old home at times her heart cried out for her people.  Undoubtedly it was at such times that she solaced herself by naming the one son Benjamin Bradstreet and another Humphrey Bradstreet.

Captain Benjamin Prosperous
Captain Benjamin Bradstreet Stanwood continued to live at Duck Brook where he was born.  Here he built one of the handsomest houses on the Island.  Near his house was his saw and grist mill.  He sailed in his vessels to Boston, New York and other ports.  His first wife, the mother of his children, was Margaretta Wasgatt.  She bore him four children.  Of these, John married Mary Gilly of Connecticut, and John’s daughter, Mary Ann, a woman of superior intellect and education, married Captain Edwin Hadlock of Cranberry isles and later of Bucksport, Maine.

Captain Ben’s second wife was Mrs. Zilpah L. (Phelps) Hotchkiss of New York.  Her son, John Hotchkiss, lived with them.  The daughters of John Hotchkiss created considerable ill-feeling among the young women of the island by going to New York with their father or grandfather and returning with “store bonnets.”  No one else on the island possessed them.  Undoubtedly, they also brought home store dresses and boots.  In those days the people of Mount Desert supplied most of their own needs.

Yes, Cordelia Stanwood died unmarried, and left no children to trace or to add to the family tree.  However, she left me, a precious gift – details on the personalities of my ancestors, Job and Martha (Bradstreet) Stanwood, and their son, Captain Benjamin Bradstreet Stanwood.  Without the careful interviews of her elders, and penning their stories for perpetuity, little details such as Martha’s poetry and Job’s praise for his intelligent wife, or Benjamin’s excursions and upsetting the neighbors with store-bought bonnets, would have been lost forever.  Cordelia Stanwood – definitely my favorite non-ancestor!


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