Monday, March 15, 2010

Always call ahead...and don't forget the local library

The tale of Penelope Stout (good) and my wasted afternoon (bad)

I learned a little lesson today. And was rewarded for remembering another one. First, here's the lesson I learned today: Although you may think the library or archive you are about to drive two hours to visit will be open, (because their website says they are open Monday through Friday 9:00-5:00) you should always, always call ahead...just to be sure. Here's why.

The Bad News

You may have seen on the news or experienced first hand the storms that rolled through the east coast last week. Well, in addition to leaving a trail of broken tree limbs and downed power-lines all over New Jersey, evidently one of them set off the fire alarm at the Alexander Library at Rutger University in New Brunswick. This happens to be where the special collections are stored, and genealogy is a very special collection. Unfortunately it happened to be especially inaccessible today because when said storms set off the fire alarm, a chemical powder was released and coated the holdings. This caused someone to have an asthmatic reaction this morning and so they closed it a few hours before I arrived. Drat!

The Good News

Which brings me to my second lesson, the one I was rewarded for remembering: Don't forget the local library. In my quest for locating the Sartor family I found myself in New Jersey examining a possibility that my Sartor family is related to the New Jersey colonial Salters. (The Sartor surname has also been spelled Salter, as shown in Revolutionary War pension application files and other documents) Ergo the attempted visit to Rutger Special Collections. Since I was in the area, I stopped in Hopewell, New Jersey. It was here that Benjamin Merrill is believed to have been born about 1731. Benjamin is claimed by some sources to be the father of my Nancy Merrill who was born about 1756. I am well aware of the fact that I haven't followed up on Nancy since my visit to North Carolina when I discovered that although Benjamin did have a daughter named Nancy, it doesn't look like she was my Nancy. So I'm not even certain Hopewell is still relevant, but since I was here I decided to check it out. Since the settlers of the Jersey Settlement in North Carolina came from Hopewell, I have a hunch that place is going to prove relevant, Benjamin Merrill or not. And I want to feel its local flavor, drive its back roads (and believe me, I did!) and all in all, I just plain wanted to go there. So I did.

Hopewell, New Jersey Cemetery

It was delightful, and although I still don't know who Nancy's parents really are, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to this charming town. There are two cemeteries. (Note: I don't see either of them at Find A Grave) The first was rather small, perhaps a quarter of a block, and was located behind the Catholic church. The other was large, old, and fabulous. Except I don't think any of my people have headstones there. I was hoping to consult the cemetery index in special collections at the library at Rutgers. (such disappointment...I should have called ahead!)

I made a stop at the local library, the Hopewell Public Library, where I was ably assisted by a cheerful and extremely helpful librarian. The library is quite small but it does the job. It has local histories of the area which were interesting and informative. I haven't had time to digest everything I copied yet, because I was in a rush to get to Rutger. (darn it...what a complete waste of time...I should have called ahead!)

The Tale of Penelope Stout

Of note is the fact that Nancy Merrill's paternal grandmother was alleged to be Penelope Stout. (once again, I have to reiterate this is probably not true...but it's still an interesting story for the real descendants of Benjamin Merrill!) The first book the librarian handed me told the story of a Penelope Stout. Not my Penelope by any means, but I secretly wish I could claim her. Hopewell Valley Heritage, by Alice Blackwell Lewis, gives the astonishing account of Penelope Stout:[1]
[Penelope] was born in Amsterdam about the year 1602, by the name Penelope Vanprincis. About 1620 she sailed with her first husband for New York (then New Amsterdam). This husband's name is not known. The vessel became stranded at Sandy Hook but the crew and occupants got ashore and started marching toward the said New York. Because Penelope's husband had been hurt in the wreck, they could not march with the others. As they tarried in the woods, Indians came upon them and thinking they had killed them both, stripped them to the skin. However, Penelope came to. Her skull was fractured and her left shoulder hacked so that she could never use that arm like the other. Also, she was cut across the abdomen exposing her bowels, and she had to hold them in with her hand.

For seven days she continued in this condition, taking shelter in a hollow tree and eating berries and whatever she could find; then two Indians appeared. She was glad, as she thought they would put her out of her misery. The older Indian prevented the younger one from violence, and throwing his matchcoat about her, he carried her to his wigwam and cured her of her wounds and bruises. After she was well, he took her to New York and made a present of her to her people. He expected to receive a present in return.

While residing there she met an Englishman whose name was Richard Stout. Their romance resulted in marriage and she bore him seven sons and three daughters, viz: Jonathan (founder of Hopewell), John, Richard, James, Peter, David, Benjamin, Mary, Sarah, and Alice. There were many children born to this family through good marriages. The mother, Penelope, lived to the age of 110 and saw her offspring increase in number to about 502, in the time of about 88 years.

So, I guess my afternoon could have been worse. Although it was pretty much a complete waste of time after leaving Hopewell, at least I was not attacked by Indians and I have a nice clean comfy hotel room to sleep in and get ready for another adventurous day tomorrow. I hope Lower Merion Historical Society proves as fun as Hopewell!


1. Alice Blackwell Lewis, Hopewell Valley Heritage (Hopewell, New Jersey: The Hopewell Museum, 1973) Hopewell Public Library, p. 8.


Alice Dilts said...

And with budget cuts these days you have to call ahead to make sure they are really open!

Claudia's thoughts said...

Thanks for the info. I will now call before I go...I would not have called either if the hours were posted...

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