The Wainwright Family of Essex County Massachusetts

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The Fowler, Foley, Lander, Pierce and Mess Families

Last Updated 10 October, 2015

In spite of the prominence of the Fowler family name in Massachusetts, this particular Fowler family connection has proven difficult to trace. Members of my family remember Helena Louisa Fowler, wife of William Henry Wainwright, as a gregarious and active person. She had a sister-in Law named Abbie, who lived in Everett Massachusetts and was a dancer.  Abbie was married to Helena's brother William Fowler. I have made significant progress recently in finding my Fowler and Lander ancestors.  What I found tells an interesting story about life in early Massachusetts and what may have been a tragedy averted in my family by illegal means.

The origins of Helena Louisa Fowler, have been an enigma to me for years.  Her marriage record indicates she was born about 1850, the daughter of Edward and Helena Fowler of Boston.  My Aunt Harriett had fond memories of Helena's sister in-law Abbie Fowler.  Abbie appears in the US Census for 1900 living in Everett Massachusetts with her husband William L Fowler.  The 1908 death record for William indicates he was the son of Edward Fowler and Helena Lander of Boston.  Thus William was the brother of Helena Louisa Fowler, my great grandmother. 

William's bride, Abigail Mess, was the daughter of Samuel W Mess and Susan Somes of Gloucester. Abigail's father, Samuel W Mess married Susan Somes in 1833 and had a large family in Gloucester.  When Susan Somes Mess died in 1857, Samuel was left with small children.  As with most men did at this time, he quickly sought another wife to care for his children and in 1858, married Helena Farmer of Boston.  From the 1860, we can see that Helena brought several Fowler children into the marriage.  Her oldest son, William L Fowler, had married his step-sister Abbie W Mess.  More significantly I had found my great grandmother!

Helena’s use of the name "Farmer" in her second marriage was a mystery.  She never used that name anywhere else, and no record exists of anyone named Helena Farmer anywhere in Massachusetts. A search for additional records on the Fowler children surfaced information on three others.  Hannah (Annie D) Fowler married Lewis Bailey, a junk dealer from Gloucester in 1862; Caroline Fowler married William C Saunders of Deer Isle, Hancock County Maine in 1866; and Edward Morris Fowler married Matilda Fader of Gloucester.  Caroline’s marriage record lists her parents as William Fowler and Helena Lander.  Ann’s marriage record lists her parents were George Fowler and Helena Lander.  Edward Morris Fowler's birth was recorded in Boston as an unnamed male child of Edward Fowler, mariner, and Helena.  The couple lived (or at least had Edward) at 2 Garden Street in Boston. 

In 2012, a new research archive became available to online researchers.  Known as the Holbrook fiche, it is a collection of images of early Massachusetts town records.  Included most importantly were early Boston Marriages and it was within this collection that I finally found a marriage of Helena Frances Lander to one Edward E Foley in November, 1844.  Edward lists his occupation as confectioner and his place of birth as Nova Scotia.  Armed with this new name, I found the Foley family listed in the 1850 US Census. By the time of the 1855 Massachusetts Census, however,  Helena was taking care of the family by herself, under the Fowler name. 

Looking closer at the Foley/Lander marriage register, we can understand why the family may have broken up.  The officiating Clergyman for the wedding was Father J.B. McMahon of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Boston.  Helena’s father was also Catholic but her mother was not.  It was a time when being a Catholic in Boston was a dangerous thing.  By the rules of the Catholic Church, in such a marriage the spouses agreed that the children would be raised as Catholics, but there surely would have been enormous pressure on the non-Catholic spouse to resist and this, combined with the rampant prejudice shown to Catholics in Boston at this time, would surely have taken a toll.  In such a situation a mother might feel the need to escape the situation for the welfare of the children; and, apparently, Helena did just that.  Beginning in 1854 with the birth of their youngest child, Helena began using the Fowler name in official records.  She changed the name of those children named after husband Edward’s family- her oldest daughter from Catherine Foley to Hannah Fowler, and the name of her third daughter from Mary Elizabeth Foley to Helena Louisa Fowler.  To ensure that her husband could never locate her, she left Boston, and used the Farmer name in her second marriage to Samuel Mess in Gloucester. 

The 1904 death record for Helena Mess lists her parents as William Lander from Boston and Helena Frances Pearce from Townsend New Hampshire.  The record of his marriage to Ann Peirce of Townsend Massachusetts in 1805 came to light only after exhaustive examination of Boston Town records on microfilm.  More exhaustive research in the Mass Vital Records has revealed 5 apparent children of this marriage so far, none of whom was properly recorded.  One child, William Pearce Lander raised a family in Boston.  After the death of his wife in 1863, he went to California to seek his fortune in the mining business.  The Census entry for him in 1880 indicates he thought his father was born in Ireland and his mother in Massachusetts.  The death record for another son, Francis A Lander indicates his father was born in England.  Another, Susan Pearce Lander, lived unmarried for many years with her sister Helena Mess in Gloucester.  Her death record indicates that her father was born in Boston.  Because of his name, I am inclined to think that this William Lander was an immigrant from Ireland.

Helena Frances Lander's mother, Ann Pearce came from Townsend, a small town in north-central Massachusetts.  Originally part of New Hampshire, the town was split when the border between the two states was redrawn in the mid-18th century.  The town records were not published until 1992 when Henry C Halliwell compiled them for NEHGS.  The work is not widely available, and it was only recently that I located a copy.  Despite being a very small town, there were two Hannah Pearce’s born there within 4 months of one another in 1786.  One was married in Townsend in 1805 (incredibly, only months from the marriage date of Hannah Pierce to William Lander in Boston) while the other does not appear in any other records of the town.  So the problem is: Which Hannah is mine? 

The likely answer came again from the published Townsend Records.  In 1824 The Townsend Selectmen received a notification from the Town of Boston that Eunice Quinn, daughter of Solomon Pierce, widow of Nicholas Quinn and sister of Anna Pierce had applied for living assistance in Boston and that since her father was from Townsend, that town should be responsible for her maintenance.  The Townsend officials responded that Solomon was never a contributing member of the town, and refused to pay for her support.  (Since Eunice died in Townsend, they must have eventually recognized her as one of their own).  Based on this, it is well within the realm of possibility that Eunice's sister Ann may have also married an Irishman from Boston.  Therefore, although it is scanty evidence, I believe that Anna Peirce was the daughter of Solomon Peirce and Eunice Farrar of Townsend Massachusetts.

In 1872 Louisa Fowler married William Henry Wainwright in Gloucester.  Louisa and William remained in Gloucester for their entire lives.  Helena Louisa died there in 1917.  Samuel W Mess died in 1899, at the age of 88.  His wife Helena died in 1904, aged 77.  Their son Frank served as informant for his mother's death.

In 1877, Helena's son William and Samuel's daughter Abbie married and moved to Bremen Street in East Boston.  They later moved to Union Street in Everett where William died in 1908, followed by Abby in 1930.

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