Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Rabbit Holes With Randy -- What Happened to the Peter Johonnot Seaver Family?

This week's Rabbit Hole was finding the story of Peter Johonnot Seaver (1770-1804) and his family.  I had his birth and baptism information and his death information.  I didn't have the rest of the story.

Peter Johonnot Seaver was born 18 October 1770 in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Ebenezer Seaver and Sarah Johonnot.  He was baptized in Hollis Street Church in Boston on 21 October 1770, according to: 

Boston City Registrar, Reports of the Record Commissioners of the City of Boston; Volume 9 (Boston, Mass.: Rockwell and Churchill, 1883), Peter Johonnot Seaver birth entry, 18 October 1770, baptism entry, 21 October 1770.

His death on 5 September 1804 in Savannah, Georgia was reported in several newspapers, including: 

"Death Notices from the New York Evening Post, 1801–1890," Online database, American Ancestors (, New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2002), citing unpublished typescript transcriptions of original notices by Gertrude A. Barber, R. Stanton Avery Collection, NEHGS, Boston, MA. "Death Notices copied from the New York Evening Post, vols. 1-54," 1933–1947), published 29 September 1804. 

The entry said "At Savannah, 5th inst., Peter Johonet Seaver, 34, native Mass."

The Columbian Centinel newspaper in Boston, Massachusetts reported it also on 3 October 1804:

"U.S. Newspaper Extractions from the Northeast, 1704-1930," indexed database with record images, ( : accessed 16 March 2022), Massachusetts > Columbian Centinel > Deaths > Roane-Stables, page 4003 (image 359 of 822), "Seaver, Peter Johannot, native of Boston, d. in Savannah, Ga., aged 34 (C.C., Oct. 3, 1804)".

And that's all I knew.  Then a student at BYU Idaho sent me a message on FamilySearch Notifications out of the blue:  

"I came across a will/probate for Peter Johonnot Seaver in doing research for one of my BYUI Family History classes and thought I'd pass it along to a descendant of his. It mentions his infant daughter by name and the mother of that daughter and her family. I wish I had time to do more research on this line for you, but my plate is full! Happy searching!"

Huh?  Peter J. had a will?  And a wife and child?  He's not my ancestor so I have not chased down everything about him.   I did not have a spouse or child for Peter Johonnot Seaver in my RootsMagic family tree. 

What could be in the will - did it name his parents and/or siblings?  I clicked on the link and found three images from the Suffolk County Probate Court clerk's record books.  I wondered if there were more pages, and found it easily on American Ancestors, which had the full 44 page probate estate file in File 22,220.  I downloaded all 44 images from the Suffolk County Probate packet, which included information about his insolvent estate, probate papers from Chatham County, Georgia including the will, etc.  I transcribed the will (images 41-43) in   Amanuensis Monday - 1805 Probate Records of Peter Johonnot Seaver (1770-1804) in Suffolk County, Massachusetts.  Peter was a merchant who died in Savannah, Georgia.  

The will raised several questions that resulted in hours of exploring this rabbit hole, including:

*  Who was the mother of the child? 

*  Why was the child named "Elizabeth Grafton Woodbridge Seaver?"  

*  Who are the Woodbridges?  Where were they from?

*  What happened to Elizabeth Grafton Woodbridge Seaver?  

Here is what I found:

1)  By inference, the wife of Peter J. Seaver was Elizabeth Grafton Woodbridge, daughter of Dorcas Woodbridge (Peter's names as a guardian for his daughter as "matrimonial mother") and sister of Thomas March Woodbridge (Peter names guardian Mary, wife of Thomas, as "sister").   Again, by inference, Peter J. Seaver's wife died after their child was born.  When?  Another Columbian Centinel extraction had:

""U.S. Newspaper Extractions from the Northeast, 1704-1930," indexed database with record images, ( : accessed 16 March 2022), page 4002 (image 358 of 822), Elizabeth Grafton Seaver, age 24, died 14 October 1802, newspaper dated 13 November 1802; "Seaver, Elizabeth Grafton, d. in Savannah, 14th of Oct., age 24 (C.C. Nov. 13, 1802)."

2)  Why was the child named Elizabeth Grafton Woodbridge Seaver?  By inference, she was named that in honor and memory of her mother, who certainly died at or immediately after childbirth.  It is a classic namesake name.

3)  Who are the Woodbridges?  Where were they from?  Dudley Woodbridge (1732-1799) married Dorcas March (1747-1820) on 19 January 1763 in Andover, Massachusetts.  The Woodbridges were from Newbury, the Marches from Andover, and Dudley, Dorcas and family settled in Salem, Massachusetts.  They had ten children, including Thomas March Woodbridge (1765-1841), who married Mary --?-- and had a family in Salem, and a merchant in Savannah also.  Thomas was also named an executor of Peter's will.  Several of the family were merchants.  Elizabeth was the 8th child, born in 1778 and died in 1802, at age 24.  Grafton is probably a family surname of a grandparent or great-grandparent of Elizabeth's.  

4)  What happened to the child, Elizabeth Grafton Woodbridge Seaver?  Did she grow up in the adoptive family?  Did she have descendants to honor her parents?  Did she keep her Seaver name or take the Woodbridge name?

Sadly and unfortunately, all of the answers are NO.  The Savannah Deaths record book records her passing on 21 May 1804:

"Savannah, Georgia Vital Records, 1803-1966," indexed records with record images, ( : accessed 16 March 2022), Deaths > 1804, image 4 of 23, "Elizabeth Seaver, age 19 months, 6 days, daughter of Peter J. Seaver, born Georgia, 21 May 1804, of teething."

The Savannah death records also had this for Peter J. Seaver:

 "Savannah, Georgia Vital Records, 1803-1966," indexed records with record images, ( : accessed 16 March 2022), Deaths > 1804, image 11 of 23, "Peter J. Seaver, 34 years, died 5 September 1804,  merchant, born Massachusetts, Sept. 5, 1804, died of a fever, at house of Thos. F. Williams Esquire."

 Look at that death page for Peter.  He died of a fever, as did six others on the same page in September 1804.  

What a sad, sad story for Peter Johonnot Seaver.  He is raised by a large and loving family, becomes a merchant, marries to Elizabeth Grafton Woodbridge (probably in about 1800) who has a large supportive family in Massachusetts, moves to Savannah and seems to be successful in business.  The happy couple have a baby, and the mother Elizabeth dies in or after childbirth.  Devastating!  Peter writes his will, naming guardians for his child Elizabeth Grafton Woodbridge Seaver if he dies.  The child, Elizabeth, obviously the apple of Peter's eye, dies at age 14 months, 6 days.  Devastating!  Peter contracts fever and dies four months later.  What a sad, sad story.

We encounter stories like this every so often in our genealogy research, and we need to honor the lives of the deceased, especially the women who die in childbirth and the children who die as infants, by telling their stories too.  

Thank you to the friendly BYU Idaho student who reached out to me to set off this trip down the rabbit hole.  It did not have the outcome I hoped for, but life happens in real time, and the reality is that things happen in moments that sometimes take over 200 years to explain.

If Linda were here at home with me, I would say "please pass the carrots, I need some energy after crawling out of this rabbit hole."


Copyright (c) 2022, Randall J. Seaver

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