Category Archives: family

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.

If you would like to learn more about the elusive Penelope Stout, see Part I: Penelope Stout, The Mother of Middletown and Part II: Penelope Stout, The Mother of Middletown

Benjamin Merrill and the Battle You Never Heard Of.

Benjamin Merrill

1731-1771

When I first heard the Battle of Alamance, I thought of France and WWI.  Alamance Creek actually runs through North Carolina. In the book, Captain Merrill and the Merrill Family of North Carolina , I learned about an important  Revolutionary War battle that preceded the battle of Concord and Lexington (April, 1775) by four years. Boston, site of the Boston Massacre in 1771, is thought to be the fuse that lit the fire under colonists to finally break from the British. But the same sort of harassment occurred in North Carolina around the same time, and concluded with an actual battle that later dropped from history books.

Why have we forgotten the Battle of Alamance the site of the first American blood spilled in the War of Independence? In the aftermath of the American Revolution, people numbered that battle among the important events in winning freedom. After the Civil War, Northerners tended to erase the South from history books, and their participation in the Civil War ( with a few exceptions like the Battle of New Orleans) disappeared. Not only did the winners write the history of the Civil War—they went farther back and rewrote the history of the Revolution as well. Today, the story is told differently, and I will meld the two versions as I tell the story.

BENJAMIN MERRIL, FARMER, SOLDIER

Benjamin Merrill was born in New Jersey. We share common 8 times great-grandparents—Richard and Penelope Stout. His mother, Penelope Stout (Jr.),  married into the French Huguenot Merrill family. According to a book called A Merrill Memorial, Penelope’s son Benjamin moved to North Carolina to an area called “Jersey Settlement” because a group of people from New Jersey, including his brother William, moved there. The move would have occurred about 1750, because his second son Andrew’s birth is recorded in North Carolina.

Benjamin was a farmer and a gun maker. He became the deacon of the Jersey Settlement Baptist Church, and a Captain in the militia.

Living in western North Carolina meant he was a frontiersman and fought battles with indigenous people still populating the area. The Jersey Settlement had more in common with neighboring Tennessee than with Eastern North Carolina with its elite plantation owners and businessmen. The local government operated on wild west principles—Sheriffs and Judges representing the English Crown, running rough-shod over the rights of the farmers.

According to a DAR application, Benjamin had a son named John born in 1750 in New Jersey. According to some sources, he married in 1753, which would have been after he moved to North Carolina, but I have not researched further to try to locate documentation. (John later lived in Georgia and in Monroe County, Mississippi.) According to most other sources, Benjamin had a total of 7 sons, including: John, Andrew (b. 1757 in North Carolina and continued to live there), Charles (b. 1761, later lived in S. Carolina), Elijah/Eli (b. circa 1763), William, (b. circa 1763), Jonathan (b. 1765), Samuel/Azariah (b. ?) and two daughters: Penelope (b. 1759), Nancy/Anna (b. 1760) .Some accounts list Samuel as the oldest son. In fact the information about his children is sketchy, and I have not rigorously  researched them. A tax record in 1757 also lists a Negro girl, Phyllis.

Apparently, Benjamin Merrill, tended toward independent thought early on. In 1756, he defied an order for “going out against a man who committed misdemeanors.” However, in 1759, he was among militia sent out on an alarm to aid a man attacked by Indians.

THE REGULATORS

Farmers in North Carolina, frustrated by corruption and excessive taxes and fees, formed an organization called The Regulators. This was in April 1767. They objected to local enforcement of English law rather than to the King’s rule. The same ambivalence shows up in documents about colonists in the north during this period. They wanted to be good British citizens. But they wanted fair treatment. They shied away from the idea of breaking with England.

An example of the abuse they suffered: By law a marriage license cost $1, but local officials charged $15. (Note, accounts I read said dollars, but I assume it was actually English pounds.) At first the Regulators tried by peaceful petition and argument to get more equitable treatment.

‘FIRE AND BE DAMNED“

However, making no headway, the Regulators turned to refusal to pay taxes, disruption of court proceedings, threats against officials, and vandalism. The ranking King’s officer, Governor Tryon, finally called together the militia to march against the Regulators after giving warning to the dissidents. Their reply–”Fire and be damned.”

JMay 14, 1771, Tryon’s 1000 militiamen were heading toward the Alamance Creek, about five miles away, where a ragtag, ill-armed and poorly-organized group of about 2000 dissidents assembled. A man representing the Regulators approached Tryon to talk, but as he turned away, the Governor shot him in the back.

Apparently some of the militia were sympathetic with the Regulators, because when the Governor ordered them to fire, some hesitated. He commanded the troops, “Fire on them, or fire on me.”

Tryon’s militia easily won the May 16 Battle of Alamance (also called the Battle of the Regulators). The King’s militia lost nine soldiers and had 61 wounded. The losses on the Regulator’s side is unknown.

The victorious Governor issued a proclamation that those who would swear allegiance and pay their taxes would be forgiven, except Captain Merrill and five others. The Governor declared them outlaws who would be hanged, drawn and quartered. Tryon took 15 prisoners, including Benjamin Merrill, who was not actually present on May 16. All but 6 escaped execution.

CAPTAIN MERRILL’S ROLE IN THE BATTLE

About May 12, Captain Merrill was heading toward Alamance with his company of 300-400 men, when he encountered General H. Waddell, who commanded a component of the King’s forces. Merrill took the General’s men prisoner and General Waddell fled to Salisbury.

Merrill and his men proceeded toward Alamance, but when they were within a day’s march, they heard the battle and a scout informed them of the Governor’s victory. Merrill released his troops and returned to his home in Ronan County. The Governor’s men arrested Merrill in short order, and took him to Tryon’s camp on June 6, 1771. The captors put Merrill in chains and dragged him through the countryside to Hillsborough where on June 19, 1771, a judge proclaimed the official sentence.

(Warning: The following contains explicit language that can be quite unsettling.)

The Judge’s sentence concluded:

“I must now close my afflicting Duty, by pronouncing upon you the awful sentence of the law; which is that you, Benjamin Merrill, be carried to the place whence you came, you be drawn from thence to the place of execution, where you are to be hanged by the neck; that you be cut down while yet alive, that your bowels be taken out and burnt before your face, that your head be cut off, your Body divided in Four Quarters and this be it his Majesty’s Disposal and the Lord have mercy on your soul.”

When allowed final remarks on the gallows, Merrill asked for mercy for his widow and ten children and that they be allowed to keep some of his property. The Governor later signed an order fulfilling that wish. Then Merrill, professing some doubts about having rebelled against the King, and professing his own faith in God, went to his death singing a Psalm.

THOUGHTS ON ALAMANCE

It is interesting to note that Merrill’s final statement refers to ten children, but the Governor’s order refers to eight children, and a later document refers to nine children.

As for the Regulators, one account I read speculated that had Merrill reached Alamance in time, the result could have been much different. That writer believed that Merrill was a better military leader than any of the men involved at Alamance. He certainly seemed to have no trouble subduing the branch of the King’s militia led by Waddell.

Although the Battle of Alamance did not prove to be the beginning of the Revolution, coming five years before the Revolution started in earnest in Massachusetts, it certainly illustrates the long simmering resentment of English government in the colonies. The Regulators were using the same arguments later used in Philadelphia by the crafters of the Declaration of Independence. And their struggle had tangible results in North Carolina. Of the 47 sections of the state constitution that was adopted in 1776, ¼ of them—thirteen sections— were reforms sought by the Regulators.

While I have written extensively about my New England ancestors in the American Revolution, this July 4th, I want to turn my attention to the North Carolinians who were the first to fight the British in actual battle, and to my relative, Benjamin Merrill, who became a martyr for the cause five years before the Declaration of Independence.

cruise ship

Elisha Stout’s Traveling Daughters

One final contribution to women’s history month, as I look at the travels of four sisters, the traveling daughters of an adventurous man.

Elisha Pinkney Stout’s daughters, my 4th cousin, 3x removed, caught my eye because Ancestry showed me the passport of Edna Pinkney Stout. I thought I would write about Edna, but it turns out her sisters had stories to tell, also.

I have related the story of Elisha, as part of the story of his father Obadiah, a pioneer in Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Ohio. Elisha, born in Ohio, traveled West and played a role in founding both Omaha and Denver, as well as seeking gold on Pike’s Peak. In his later life, he returned to Cincinnati where he became rich and successful.

The four traveling daughters, Mecia, Edna, Blanche and Florence, had one brother, William Kirk Stout, called by his middle name– his mother’s maiden name. He died young. I know that three of them had adequate means to live well, attended by servants and free to cruise the world. I know less about the fourth.

When I thought I had unearthed all the surprises I could about Edna and her sister, I found the best story of all. So I definitely have to include Elisha’s grand daughter, Margaret Moore, but I will save her for a separate article.

To put these women in perspective with my closer relatives. The sisters fall in the same generation as my great-grandmother, Hattie Stout. That means that Elisha’s grand daughter, Margaret Moore Hvenor (1891-1968) fell close to my grandmother, Vera Stout Anderson‘s age (1881-1964).

Margaret “Mecia” Stout Stearns

Present day Google Street View of 320 Reilly Road where Mecia Stout Stearns and her family lived.

Edna’s older sister Margaret “Mecia” Stout Stearns (1861-1931) married and lived next door to her father’s estate in the village of Wyoming all of her life with her husband and three children. Wyoming, a northern suburb of Cincinnati presently houses about 8500 people. The Stearns family always list their address as 320 Reilly Road/Avenue and Elisha’s address continued as 420 Reilly Road/Avenue. This stability of address led me to the faulty assumption that Mecia was a stay-at-home. Her husband, William S. Stearns belonged to a family that owned a cotton mill, and Mecia and William’s household always include two or three servants.

Her traveling may have been delayed, but when she was 62, she and her husband began taking cruises every year. Although his passport lists his wife and children, I did not see their children’s names on any of the ship’s manifests, so they may not have gone along.

  • 1922: In March, they returned from Alexandria Egypt
  • 1923: They returned from Yokohama Japan. Since Edna returned on the same ship, it is possible they both were on the same lengthy cruise of the Far East. (See Edna)
  • 1924: In March, they arrived back from Bermuda
  • 1925: In September, they arrived from Southampton, England
  • 1926: In March, they arrived in New York from Southampton again.
  • 1927: in April, they arrived in New York after two months on a cruise that departed from New York and circled back.
  • 1928: in September, they arrived in New York from Southampton, England.

Mecia surprised me one more time, when I learned that she died in 1931, not in Cincinnati, but while vacationing in Atlantic City. Traveler to the end.

Edna Pinkney Stout

The second of the traveling daughters, Edna Pinckney Stout ( 1862-1957) never married. For a time, I assumed that she was mentally or physically handicapped, since according to census reports, she lived with her parents until she was in her 50s.

Other than being listed as a postmistress at the Stout Post office–not far from Cincinnati–in 1899, census reports list no occupation for Edna. She lived with both her parents on their elaborate estate in Wyoming Village, until her mother died in 1909. Her younger sister, Florence, lived there until she married at the age of 32 in 1904. But Edna stayed on after their mother died. In the 1910 census, she is the only one still living with her father on the family estate.

Edna Leaves Ohio

Father Elisha died in 1913 in Los Angeles, where he was living with his youngest daughter Florence Stout Baker in Los Angeles. I learned that Edna was also in Los Angeles. In probate papers after Florence’s death in 1914, Florence’s husband listed Florence’s siblings. Edna Stout, living in the Hotel Pepper in Los Angeles.

Perhaps Edna had traveled to Los Angeles to help care for her father or for her sister when they were in a final illness. Edna must have returned to Ohio soon after her sister died because by 1920, she is back in Hamilton County, Ohio, living with her sister Mecia Stout Stearns and her husband. This part of her life is traditional. The unmarried sister, who lives with parents until they die, and then lives with various siblings.

In 1922, her brother-in-law, William Stearns helped her get a passport. Apparently, Edna prepared to leave on an extensive tour of the East early in 1923. Her November 1922 passport application shows she planned to visit Madeira (?), Gibraltar, Algiers, Egypt, India, Ceylon, ________Settlements, Dutch East Indies, _________ , Indonesia, Indo-China, Hong Kong, Macau, China and Japan. Even as an organized tour, or cruise, this itinerary exceeds the first-time travel of an ordinary sixty-year-old woman in the 1920s. She returned to New York, in May, 1923, making this a trip around the world. However, she may not have been traveling alone.

The Stearns returned on the same ship from Japan to New York. However, since I do not have ship’s manifests that show either Edna or her sister and brother-in-law leaving on this tour, I cannot say for sure if they all took the extensive far Eastern tour.

If Edna traveled in the next seven years, I do not have a ship’s manifest to prove where she went. But in 1930, she apparently went on another cruise. In April, the census caught her living in a boarding house/hotel in Los Angeles. She left the port of Wilmington, California (Los Angeles Port) in May, 1930, and arrived in Honolulu seven days later. Her return trip in August, 1930, brought her back to Los Angeles. I rather doubt that she was lying on a beach in Hawaii for two and a half months. Perhaps this cruise took her to some exotic Pacific locations.

Although I did not find her father Elisha’s will, I know from the information in the probate of the estate of her sister Florence, that although unmarried and unemployed, Edna had no money worries. Her father’s estate, reported to be about $80,500 (which would be worth $1, 046,500 today), had been divided three ways–Edna, her sister Florence, and her sister Mecia. (The only son in the family, William “Kirk” Stout, had died in 1890 at the age of 14.)

Blanche Stout Moore

Blanche (1865-1937) provides a different story. In 1890, at the age of 24, she married Edward E. Moore, a cotton merchant, and moved to New York. Like Mecia’s family, this family always had multiple servants. Their residence changed from Hackensack, New Jersey to finally living in the tony Scarsdale area of New York.

But the thing that puzzles me–why did Florence’s husband say his father-in-law’s estate was divided between three daughters. When Elisha died, there were four daughters. So why was the estate not divided in four? Was Blanche shunned by the family for some reason? He knew Edna, whom he listed by name, but Mecia and Blanch were “two other sisters, who live, he believes in Ohio.” He got it right for Mecia, but not for Blanch.

Edna, who lived with both her other sisters, never lived with Blanche, her husband and children which also tends to make me think Blanche separated from the family.

In 1893, Edward Moore applied for a passport–one of those that included the wife, Blanche. (See section on Passports below).

Although we do not get a photograph, Blanche’s husband is described as 6′ tall. He has a high forehead, black eyes, a prominent nose, large mouth, long chin, black hair and dark skin.

16 Apr, 1910, Blanche sailed from London to New York without any other family members.

16 Sept, 1914, Blanche arrived from visiting England again. This time she was accompanied by her daughter Margaret and son Kirk and also Emma B. Moore and Perry E. Moore. (It is a good guess that these are a sister-in-law and nephew.)

Blanche’s travel seems modest, however, taking her daughter Margaret abroad apparently had an effect. (See separate article).

Florence Stout Baker

Florence Stout Baker (1872-1914), the youngest daughter, lived with her parents until she married at the ripe old age of 32. Then she and her husband, Henry A. Baker, a pharmacist, moved to Los Angeles.

I am speculating that not long after her mother died, Edna’s father sold the Cincinnati estate. He then moved to Los Angeles with Florence Stout Baker and her husband. But I cannot locate a records for Florence and her husband that will tell me when Florence moved to L. A. In fact every detail about Florence’s life after her marriage eludes me.

I thought she was not a traveler, until I found her probate record. I have not found any trace of Florence on ship’s manifests, and very little other information about her or her husband. However, like her sister Mecia, she did not die at home. Her probate papers and death certificate show that she died in Hammond Louisiana, north of New Orleans. Why Hammond? Who knows?

Passports

I learned a lot about passports while gathering information about the adventurous daughters. Did you know that in the mid-19th century, women traveling with their husbands did not have their own passport? The husband’s passport lists his name, hers, and if they are along–the children. A woman traveling alone, however, might have a passport listing herself and any children traveling with her.

Notice I said “might”, that’s because–surprise number two–laws did not require U. S. Citizens to have a passport until June 1941. Two exceptions–if they traveled abroad during the Civil War or during World War I, they must carry a passport.

In the mid 19th century, men made 95% of trips abroad. However, by the late 19th century, women comprised 40% of passport applicants. I got all this information about passports from the very helpful National Archives site in their section on Passport Applications.

I hope this article on the traveling Stout sisters may encourage someone else to seek out ship’s manifests and passports to track the travels of the traveling daughters in their family tree.