Penelope Stout–Wonder Woman

Penelope ___ Stout, Legendary 8th Great Grandmother

PENELOPE VAN PRINCIS: 1622 (?)-1732 (?)

A medal commemorating Penelope Stout as Mother of Middletown New Jersey.

A medal commemorating Penelope Stout as Mother of Middletown New Jersey.

The matriarch of the Stout line in America, Penelope Van Princes Stout, provides our family with a legendary woman in the most literal sense of the word.  Penelope married my 8th great-grandfather, Richard Stout, an adventurer and perhaps part-time pirate. My mother’s maternal grandfather “Doc” Stout traced his ancestry back to Richard and Penelope Stout. 

Penelope’s personal story includes a shipwreck, a deadly injury overcome,  capture and rescue from death by Indians, and becoming the “Mother of Middletown New Jersey.”  If you want to see the evolution of the legend, you can read the several versions of the embellished story about the miraculous Stouts on this web page.  However, I found a summary, which I have used below to unfold Penelope’s story by Nick Sheedy of John Day, Oregon. (He calls it notes and conjecture, so do not confuse this story with proof unless documents are cited.)

The Story of Penelope Princis Stout

The condensed version of the dramatic tale starts when Penelope and her first husband, whose last name was something like Van Princes, sailed from Holland for America in 1647. [Alternatively, stories say that her maiden name was Van Princes and her husband’s name was Kent or Lent.  Some other sources reverse the order to the maiden name and the married name.]  Their ship wrecked on a sand bar on the coast of New Jersey, and the survivors all fled, except for Penelope who stayed with her injured husband. 

When her husband died,  the unfortunate woman was discovered by Indians.  Those indigenous people, determined to keep the European settlers away from their land, took a hatchet to her and wounded her on the head and gashed her abdomen.  When they left her for dead, she rallied and holding her intestines into her body, she dragged herself to a hiding place inside a hollow tree. There she survived for several days on fungus and berries until a friendlier Indian appeared on the scene and dressing her wounds and her body, took her to his village.  After some time, either he took her north and sold her as a servant or gave her the opportunity to leave and find her own people.  

However much of this marvelous story is true, a woman named Penelope does show up up in Gravesend, New York. This colony of English-speaking people existed in the midst of Dutch territory. The first scrap of proof of Penelope’s existence appears in a prosaic 1648 court case in Long Island regarding the milking of a neighbor’s cow.

In Gravesend, Penelope met The adventurous older Richard Stout, perhaps 18 years her senior.  They were married some time between 1648 and 1664, and sailed across the bay to New Jersey. There they settled Middletown (perhaps at the suggestion of her friendly Indian savior who continued to visit her throughout his life.)  She and Richard raised many children and Penelope told her children and grandchildren the story of her miraculous survival and showed them the scars on her abdomen.  They say that the “Mother of Middletown” died at 110 years old and left behind 500 descendants.

What Do We Really Know About Penelope?

Although estimates of her birth year range between 1622 and 1626, her marriage to Richard Stout is tracked although there is no specific record of the event. We know about his will, and that she was still alive in 1705. Unfortunately, despite much speculation, no one has discovered proof of her birth year or the place, or even the name of her parents. 

Many of the stories written about her say she lived to 110 years (1622-1732). Although the first such report was published in 1765,  it still does not constitute proof, coming more than 100 years after the events of her early life.

Alas. If you love the legend, you may want to skip the next few entries on Ancestors in Aprons. Sorry to be a spoil-sport, but I am diving into the murky waters of legend and attempting to come up with some facts.

While no solid proof exists for the most dramatic parts of Penelope’s story, records do document the impact of the life of Richard and Penelope Stout and their offspring. They were influential people–ancestors worth knowing. 

Next time we meet, I will share the thoughts of Nick Sheedy who has done exhaustive research on the story of Richard and Penelope.   And I will take a look at another amateur historian who contradicts just about every commonly accepted piece of information about my legendary foremother.

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THE KEEPSAKE – 200-YEAR-OLD TREASURES

The things people keep!! What makes a keepsake, anyhow?

In preparing to move last December, I went through my family history boxes. I stopped to take a look in the pockets of a worn, brown leather billfold. I am not sure who it belonged to, but I discovered that it held treasures. Perhaps the billfold was the property of Harriet Morgan Stout, or her daughter, my grandmother Vera Stout Anderson. But the keepsake inside definitely has ties to Harriet (Hattie) Stout’s mother, Mary Bassett (1810-1890).

Mary Bassett, Student
Keepsake #1: Mary Bassett School Report

The First Keepsake

Mary Bassett, my great-great grandmother later became Mary Bassett Platt Morgan, but all her life, she treasured this tiny “report card.” If you read what I wrote about Mary’s life, you will see that she was a life-long learner and avid reader, so the fact that a good report survived is not a surprise.

As near as I can decipher, the paper says:

This certifies that Mary Bassett’s ___________attention and good behaviour merits the approbation of her

Instructress.

August 6th 1820

What Does This Scrap of Paper Mean?

The date on this looks to me like August 6, 1820, which makes the one inch by two inch torn and wrinkled paper TWO HUNDRED YEARS OLD. Mary would have been ten years old in 1820, and her family still lived in Keene, New Hampshire. Six years later, the family would move to Keene, Ohio.

I am fascinated by the fact that the edge of blue is printed around this tiny piece of paper, leading me to assume that this was a prepared “form” that the teacher filled out. The beautiful handwriting seems even more impressive when you consider how small this note is–approximately one inch high and two inches wide. At the time of the note, girls would likely have been taught by an woman who held classes in her own home–known in Colonial times as a Dame School. However, public schools and private academies also thrived in New England in the early 19th century.

Why did the Instructress not sign her name? Or give us a place? Could it have been Mary’s mother, Elizabeth Stone Bassett?

Catharine Fiske established a Young Ladies Seminary in Mary’s home town of Keene, New Hampshire in 1814. Could she be our Instructress? No, although her seminary illustrates the interest in women’s education in Keene, hers was a high school. A good history of the the schools of Keene is on line, but unfortunately it does not differentiate male and female schools or grammar from high schools. If you have more information about where Hattie might have attended school, I would welcome it.

An article in the History of Education Quarterly points out that the 1850 census, which designated both men’s and women’s literacy, showed New England citizens at almost 100% literacy. (Abstract on line at JStor.com)That contrasts with earlier evidence that only men were literate. Based on the ages of people surveyed, the author assumes that the shift to female literacy began about 1820.

I welcome your help with that one word that I am missing in my transcription. (Or is it two words?)

A Keepsake From Mary’s First Husband

Keepsake #2: A bill of lading for the business of Mary’s husband, Mr. Platt.

Mary, as I wrote in earlier posts about her life, made unfortunate choices in husbands. She married when she was 21 years old, in 1831. Her first husband, Asahel Platt, ran a dry goods business in Killbuck Ohio, but died just two years after the marriage, leaving Mary to fend for herself. (The second, my family’s most fascinating scoundrel, Jesse Morgan ran away in the Gold Rush and left Mary to raise their and his children.)

One would assume that such a business would have generated quite a bit of paper work, but this little card seems to be the only thing surviving, other than the list of possessions in his probate papers which first tipped me off to the fact that Mr. Platt was a store keeper.

This small card shows that he was in some sort of business in June 1831, several months before he married Mary.

The handwriting is quite clear, and my transcription follows:

We have agreed to transport Mr. A. Platt’s goods from New York to Massilon (sic) Ohio care Mr. Hogan J Harris at one dollar seventy nine cents per 100# all round.

New York, 18 June 1831

R. Putnam

agent H. E. L_____

The opposite side of the card is printed in [very faded] red ink on the brown card:

———————

WESTERN TRANSPORTATION

Oho, Troy & Erie Line.

PROPRIETORS

Gidings, Baldwin & Cox, Cleveland, Ohio

S. Thompson & Company…..,

Townsend & Cod,….. [These last two bracketed with Buffalo N. Y. on the left]

G. P. Griffith & Co.,….. Troy

Apply to

HILL, FISH & ABBE, Foot of Chestnut St., Philadelphia

RUFUS PUTNAM, 22 South Street, New York

—————————–

What Does This Keepsake Mean?

This note is dated months before Mr. Platt’s marriage to Mary, so I have no evidence of where he was conducting business. Later he had a store in Killbuck, Ohio where she spent the rest of her life He was married in Coshocton in 1831, but so far I have no evidence of where he was doing business that year.

Massillon was a stop on the Ohio Canal. The goods probably would have gone by boat across northern New York to Lake Erie, and then down the Erie/Ohio canal system to Massillon.

[Note: 3/9/2021: Thanks to my son Mike Badertscher’s eagle-eyed Internet search, we have some very interesting articles from the Cleveland Herald for 1830 and 1831 regarding the Ohio, Erie and Troy company. If you are as fascinated as I am by the short period of fast expansion in means of transportation, be sure to poke around this site a bit.

Reading this makes me wonder if perhaps Mary’s husband was not a rather adventurous soul, throwing his lot in with this brand new form of moving goods. Perhaps he was a middle man for the goods rather than a retailer?

Another interesting angle on this information. Remember that Mary’s parents moved to Keene Ohio with a group of settlers transferring from Keene New Hampshire. What was the draw to that area in 1827? The building of the Ohio canal!]

Note: The R. Putnam signing the note, must be the Rufus Putnam of New York listed on the printed side of the card. However, he would not have been the same Rufus Putnam as the Revolutionary War General who led veterans to settle Marietta, Ohio, as that Rufus Putnam lived out his years in Ohio and died several years before this transaction.

Of course what interests me most are the motivations of my great-great-grandmother, Mary Bassett Platt Morgan, as she tucked away each keepsake. I can understand saving the little note of praise from a loved teacher. But why keep this business record from her first husband, dated before they were even married? It is questions like these that make me wish I were a novelist instead of an historical researcher.

Notes on Research

Sklar, Kathryn Kish. “The Schooling of Girls and Changing Community Values in Massachusetts Towns, 1750-1820.” History of Education Quarterly 33, no. 4 (1993): 511-42. Accessed February 28, 2021. doi:10.2307/369611.

“Schools”, a chapter by Laurence O. Thompson in A History of Keene, New Hampshire, The Keene History Committee (1968), Keene, New Hampshire.

NOTE: I have a message pending to the Ohio History Connection to see if they can enlighten us on the company or the transportation routes mentioned in this post. If I get more information, I will certainly update.

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apple crumb pie

Caramel Apple Pie with Pecan Crumb Crust

As a new bride, I was reluctant to start making pies because my mother made such great pies. When I worked up the courage, I started with the American classic, Apple Pie. After all, at my Grandma’s house, the rule seemed to be that it was okay to have more than one kind of pie for dessert, as long as one of them was apple. When I baked my apple pie, I relied on my American classic cook book, Joy of Cooking.

For a long time, apple pie was about the only pie I made. I finally braved the wilds of other types of pies, and am still experimenting with new twists on old favorites. This caramel apple pie with pecan crumb topping melds the original Joy of Cooking apple pie recipe, with a technique I saw mentioned in a Facebook pie baking group. Then I borrowed the crumb topping recipe from another vintage cookbook, Better Homes and Gardens, and gave it a different twist.

The first challenge with the seemingly simple apple pie is deciding which of hundreds of kinds of apples to use. Most older cookbooks recommend Granny Smith, however, people are gravitating toward sweeter apples, and I found that Honeycrisp makes a very good pie. Just be sure to adjust your sugar depending on how sweet the apple is. Here’s a chart to help you decide.

I first saw this chart at my local Sprouts Farmer’s Market grocery store. It is a helpful guide. to sweetness in apples.

Here is my cobbled together recipe–for two smaller pies so you have one to eat and one to share. I hope you like it.

apple crumb pie
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Caramel Apple Pie with Pecan Crumb Topping

New twist on America's favorite: Apple Pie. Recipe for two pies–one to share.
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Keyword apple, pie, vintage
Prep Time 40 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Total Time 11 hours 25 minutes
Servings 12 slices
Author Vera Marie Badertscher

Equipment

  • 2 Disposable pie pans
  • Food processor

Ingredients

  • 8-10 Apples Peeled, cored and sliced. See Notes
  • Pie Dough for two shells
  • 1 cup Brown Sugar
  • 1/4 tsp Salt
  • 3 tbsp Corn starch
  • 1 1/2 tsp Penzey's Apple Pie Spice See Notes

Crumb Topping

  • 1 Cup Sugar
  • 1 1/2 Cup Flour
  • 2/3 Cup Butter
  • 1/2 Cup Pecans

Instructions

  • Mix brown sugar, salt, corn starch and spices. Pour over Apples and place them in refrigerator over night.
  • The next day, heat oven to 400 degrees.
  • When ready to bake, strain off liquid and boil until reduced to thin syrup. Let cool slightly before adding back and mixing with apples.
  • Line two 8" pie pans with dough, and heap half of the apples in each.
  • To make Topping, mix sugar, flour and butter, and pulse a few times in food processors, just until there are no large clumps. Add pecans and three to four times more to incorporate pecans.
  • Scatter topping on apples in pans. Apples should barely show.
  • Put pie pans on cookie sheet and insert in 400 degree oven. Bake 45-50 minutes, until topping begins to brown. Check after 30 minutes and cover edge if it is browning too fast.
  • Serve pie with ice cream or whipped cream.

Notes

If you have very sweet apples, you can cut back on the sugar used.  If your apples are not juicy, you may want to add some water or bottled apple juice when you are boiling  down the juice.
Of course, I recommend my Perfect Pie Crust, however, feel free to use whatever pie shell you prefer. The topping is the star in this pie.
I specified Penzey’s Apple Pie Spice in the recipe, but if you don’t have any, you can substitute 1/2 tsp. Cinnamon; 1/4 tsp nutmeg and 1/4 tsp cardamon (if you have it on hand). The Penzey’s mix is  very nice and I have found that I use it in a lot of ways besides apple pie–other fruit pies, cinnamon/sugar toast, baked puddings, etc.
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