Tuesday, November 10, 2015

James Fitzgerald, the Fortuitous?

Family Reunion at the old family farm in Andover, NH, July 13, 2013
Who knew we were canoeing on top of our families' great investment of 1866? Not me, at least not until last week. Also last week,my perception of my great-great-grandfather, James Fitzgerald, was radically changed by just a little bit of new informaton.

In 2002, 2003, and 2007, I visited the offices where the property records for Merrimack County are housed in Concord, New Hampshire. During these visits, I went through all the Grantee Books and Grantor Books, looking for property records pertaining to my great-grandfather, James E. Fitzgerald, and to his father, James Fitzgerald. I had copies made of the forty three property records which I thought were relevant to their stories. These included mostly deeds and mortgages. As you can imagine, this was a fairly large stack of paper with lots of legalize.

In 2007, I spent painstaking hours extracting pertinent information from all this paperwork. At the time, I discovered that I was missing the image of one of the records. In February 1866, James Fitzgerald, a tailor from Wilmot, had bought land in Andover for the first time. This was about 100 acres, more or less, for which James paid $1800. I knew that the missing deed was dated November 20, 1866. I knew that James Fitzgerald was the grantor and that a John Proctor was the grantee. 

For these past 8 years, I have mistakenly assumed the worst about James. In my mind, James, an Irish immigrant who had been living in America for about 16 years, had finally accumulated enough money to buy his own land. Good for James! But, James was only able to hold onto the land for 9 months. What had happened? Being a pessimist and thinking the worst, I assumed that James, who was a tailor by profession and couldn't read or write, had lost the property for failure to pay a mortgage. In my imagination, James was an Irishman who had gotten-in over his head, drank too much, and lost it all.

How wrong I was!

Two weeks ago, I decided to make another effort to get a copy of the missing deed. I checked to see if the property records for Merrimack County were now available online. I was delighted to find a website for the Merrimack County Registry of Deeds. Since I knew the date of the missing deed, I was able to easily find and download an image of it. The information in the missing deed, led me back to a book , History of the Town of Andover, New Hampshire. Putting together the information from the newly read property record and the information from the history of Andover, this is what I have discovered:

James bought the 100 acres in 1866. This is the same year in which a John Proctor bought the land where the water flows out of Bradley Pond and where a mill or mills had been previously built and operated for a number of years. This same year, John Proctor bought some other land in the area which was adjacent to a waterway and hosted one or more mills. John Proctor bought these properties in 1866, the same year in which our James Fitzgerald bought and lost his land.

To increase the power generated at the outflow of Bradley Pond, John Proctor wanted to build a dam, about 12 feet high. Building the dam would increase the potential for powering a mill or mills Unfortunately, it would also flood some of the lower lying lands at the northern end of the pond, including the homestead which James Fitzgerald had just bought. This meant that John Proctor couldn't build his dam without James' consent. He gained James' consent by buying James' newly bought farm for an undisclosed amount of monies. Why was the amount of money kept secret?  I presume that James made a very tidy profit. 

Did James buy the property because he knew about John Proctor's plans? Did James anticipate that John Proctor would have to seek his approval in order to flood the acreage which James bought?  Or was James just lucky?

I had imagined that James was a failure because he had owned the land for only 9 months. Instead, this fact actually was an indicator of his success, whether by his acumen or good luck.

A company making harness hames was the most successful business in Andover for many years, powered by the newly harnessed outflow from Bradley Pond.  It wasn't until 1874 that my James Fitzgerald again bought land in Merrimack County. For $1400, he bought another farm, not far from his original farm. In 1884, James transferred ownership to his son, James E. Fitzgerald, planning to live on this farm the remainder of his life. Nonetheless, by 1890, James moved into a tenement in Manchester, New Hampshire.

His son, James E. Fitzgerald, sold the farm and moved to Penacook and became the manager of a boarding house. A few years later, James E. Fitzgerald exchanged properties with his sister-in-law, and again became the owner of a farm in Andover. Two years ago, we had a family reunion on the farm that James E. and Jennie Fitzgerald bought from his sister-in-law in 1893. This is the farm where my grandmother grew-up and where my Dad and his brother and sisters visited in their youth. This farm is adjacent to the farm which James E. Fitzgerald's father had given him, lying along the shores of Bradley Lake at a spot overlooking what had been his father’s fortuitous purchase of land now largely covered by water. 

The next time I return to New Hampshire to visit my great-grandfather's farm, I will look towards the lake and remember the old farm now covered by it's waters, and thank the powers that be for the luck of the Irish.


The below map shows the relative locations of farms that my family bought in Andover.

And for those that like a bit more detail, below is a synopsis of the associated real estate transactions.

A  James Fitzgerald's Investment Property
In 1866,  James Fitzgerald bought about 100 acres for $1800 in February and sold it in November to John Proctor for an undisclosed amount, enabling the pond to be dammed. With the building of the dam, the property was covered by water.
B  James and Lizzie Fitzgerald's Farm
In 1874, for $1400, James & Betsy bought a farm and orchard from a widow, Flora G. Sargent.
In 1884, James & Betsy Fitzgerald give their son, James E., the farm and orchard provided that he takes care of them, shares the proceeds, and lets them live there.
In 1887, for $400, James & Betsy sells the farm & orchard to their son, James E..
In 1887, for $425, James E. & Jennie mortgage the farm to Henry Weymouth. The mortgage is paid in full in 1896.
In 1888, for $50,  James E. Fitzgerald and Henry A. Weymouth sell the orchard to Ann J. Matthews.
In 1890, for $815, James E. Fitzgerald sells the farm to James Simpson.

C  James and Jennie Fitzgerald's First Farm

In October 1885, for $250, Jim Fitzgerald bought about 60 acres on Bradley Pond. He and Jennie sold the land for $405 in 1887 to William A. Simpson. James E. Fitzgerald held a mortgage for the property which was discharged in May 1890.
D  James and Jennie Fitzgerald's Second Farm

In 1870, for $1300, Michael Lorden, the father of James E. Fitzgerald's best friend, William, buys about 100 acrsa in Andover from Nicholas & Catherine Wallace.
In 1873, for $100, Michael Lorden, buys about 6 acres from John & Elizabeth Proctor. (Were these 6 acreas part of the farm that James & Betsy bought in 1866, a part that remained unflooded after the dam was built?)
In 1889, for $900, Ellen McCormick (Jennie's sister) buys the 100 + 6 acres from Michael Lorden.
In 1889, for $450, Ellen McCormick mortages the farm to Michael Lorden.
In 1893, for $1200, James E. Fitzgerald buys the 100 + 6 acres from Ellen. Ellen, for $1200, buys an acre in Concord, NH from James E..
In 1921, for life time support, Jennie gives the farm to her son, Maurice. A year later, Maurice returns the farm to Jennie.
In 1925, for life time support, Jennie gives the farm to her son, Francis. In 1928, Francis returns the farm to Jennie.
In 1928, for $1 and other valuable consideration, Jennie sells the farm to James Boyd Watson.

E  William and Lizzie Lorden's Farm
In November 1883, about 80 acres were quitclaimed to Michael Lorden and James E. Fitzgerald for $250. They sold this land for $150 to William Lorden, Michael's son and Jim's best friend, in March 1887.
© 2015, Cathy H Pari

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