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  • The Ira Farnham Papers

    Russell C. Farnham, C.G.

    Published Date : October 18, 2002

    On a recent visit to a popular Internet genealogical forum I noticed that items purporting to belong to Ira Farnham of Acton, Maine were being offered for auction on the popular eBay site.  I wasted no time in going to that site, and after reviewing the description of items being offered, was determined to acquire them. They were found during a recent real estate transaction in Acton of a home that was not owned by a Farnham.  My bid was successful for the following ten items:

    1. Ledger, measuring 8” x 6 ½,” detailing various trading transactions
    2. Ledger, measuring 3¾” x 5¾,” also containing trading transactions
    3. Original deed from Charlotte Wentworth to Paul Farnham of Shapleigh, Maine (York Co. Deed: 132:2)
    4. Original deed from Dexter F. Corson of Augusta to Ira Farnham (YD:204:568)
    5. Original deed from Isariah Doore to N. Jewett witnessed by Paul Farnham (YD:62:93 sic)
    6. Original deed from James Berry, Richard Doore, and Selina Doore to Ira Farnham (YD 146:46)
    7. Original deed from Aaron Hubbard to Paul Farnham of Shapleigh (YD: 112:135)
    8. Original deed from Paul Farnham to his son Ira Farnham (YD: 187:232)
    9. Original deed from Daniel L. Farnham to Ira Farnham (YD: 240:171)
    10. Original maintenance deed from Ira and Sally Farnham to daughter, Ellen F. Wiggin (YD:384:50)

    Being familiar with the families of Shapleigh and Acton [especially Farnhams], I was thrilled to bid for and acquire these documents, as there was never any doubt of their genealogical interest.  My recollection is that the description on the eBay site identified the group of papers as “documents and journals,” possibly belonging at one time to Ira Farnham.  As most of the documents were original land deeds, I considered the fact that as with all land transactions in this era, the original deed was taken to the county registrar of deeds.  He would then copy it for his records, and enter it into county records by book and page, noting the names of the grantor and grantee.  Generally the buyer retained the original deed.  After receiving these papers I noted that all of the deeds contained proper notations confirming that they had been recorded in York County. So there was never a question if they contained unrecorded transactions of any significance. 

    The maintenance deed (York Co. Deed 384:50) had special interest for me because it was a deed I did not review or abstract in my book, The New England Descendants of the Immigrant, Ralph Farnum of Rochester, Kent County England and Ipswich, Massachusetts (Portsmouth, NH: Peter E. Randall, publisher, 1999). 

    But the ledgers of Ira Farnham also yielded interesting information. The entries concerned numerous trades (payments) of goods, while offering a window into mid-nineteenth-century life at Acton.  However, the entries do not always clearly indicate if Ira Farnham was the creditor or debtor. They appear to show monies that were owed to him, while recording work done by debtors to pay off the debts, but which could also be payments made by Ira to satisfy his debts.

    The smaller ledger consists of a light blue cover and eight interior pages, held together in the center by thread.  The entries in this smaller ledger concern only John Farnham, David Horn, and Nathaniel Jewett. A sample page of the ledger follows:

    Ira Farnham 01

    Page from the ledger of Ira Farnham
    Click image for enlarged view

    In this image, the notation “Dr,” (debtor?) is visible in the upper right corner of the left page.  The left side would appear to list debts that were incurred by Nathaniel Jewett (i.e., Ira’s accounts receivables).  The first entry shows that Ira worked one day on March 4, 1838, “hauling logs one hand and four cattle” [10 hours], and earning $1.67.  This was probably not work done personally by Ira, but by his farmhand, using oxen belonging to Ira. This work took place over four consecutive days.   Ira’s next entry on his account with Jewett was recorded over a year later on August 29, 1839. On this date he charged the same $1.67, but this time for “two days mowing found our selves.”  This probably meant Ira did the mowing himself.  The following year, on January 15, 1840, he charged $1.25 for “one days loging from Horns mill one hand and four cattle.”

    The right side of the ledger is titled “To Ira Farnham” and contains similar entries.

    The larger ledger is a manufactured booklet containing interior pages of horizontally lined paper.  The dark brown hard cover and endpapers are bound together with glued endpapers.  Some pages have been removed with a razor or other sharp instrument.  A sample page is below.


    Ira Farnham 02
    Page from the ledger of Ira Farnham
    Click image for enlarged view


    Individuals named in this larger ledger included:

    N. P. Gerrish
    Nathaniel Ham
    Benjamin Horn
    Nathaniel Horn
    “Winthrap” M. Horne
    Samuel J. Hunt
    widow Ann Jewett
    Elias “Millar”
    “Ebinezer” Osgood
    Alva Runnels
    Nathaniel Rines
    John Row
    John G. Sanborn  
    Joshua B. Sanborn
    George “Stacpole”
    R. P. Tebbetts
    Lyman Willey
    James Willey
    Aaron Witham
    Mark N. Wiggin

    Considering that “Asa Fox & Son” and Ira Farnham purchased or paid for a vast array of goods such as fish, boots, sugar, butter, shears, “mollases,” cloth, “hanks linen thred,” eggs, peas, “Baldwin apples,” “peare stockins,” plug of tobacco, shingle nails, 10 penny nail, bushel salt, seven yards ticking at 35 cents per yard, tea, etc., it would be fair to say they were both “traders.”  In census and other records, Ira is usually listed as a farmer. But some of these documents also record him as a shoemaker and a millwright. 

    On a separate piece of paper inserted between the pages of the ledger I found a note with “Maine Side” written across the top, and the following names written below it:

    Mrs. W. S. Miller
    Mrs. Wm. Pinfold
    Mrs. James Merrone
    Mrs. Frank Hurd
    Mrs. _ Hill
    Mrs. C. S. Lowed [and]
    Mrs. S. Lowed 

    On the other side was written “N.H. Side,” with the following names:

    Mrs. Frank Goodgins
    Mrs. _ Day
    Mrs. C. H. Prescott
    Mrs. Chas. Fox
    Mrs. B. W. Simez [sic]
    Mrs. Fred Simer
    Mrs. A. A. Fox
    Mrs. O. F. Marsh
    Mrs. John Simes
    Mrs. F. G. Furlong
    Mrs. Daniel Murray
    Mrs. W. F. Cutts
    Mrs. A. B. Shaw
    Mrs. Orange Wentworth
    Mrs. John Applebee
    Mrs. Daniel Philbrick
    Mrs. Henry Philbrick 

    This apparently was a list of customers who routinely purchased provisions and goods from Ira.

    Especially noteworthy is the fact that Ira recorded debts owed to him by the young men who married three of his four daughters. Hannah was second spouse of Nathaniel Ham; Ellen, who was the beneficiary of Ira’s homestead as seen below in his maintenance deed, was married to Mark N. Wiggin; and Sarah was the first spouse of Josiah W. Witham.[1]  Elizabeth, the second oldest daughter, never married and died at Acton, June 20, 1916, at age 82y, 2m, 19d.[2]

    I wanted to learn more of Asa Fox and also wished to follow these families a bit further.  I consulted the census and the recently published Early Families of Shapleigh and Acton, Maine (Frederick Boyle, Peter E Randall, Publisher, Portsmouth, NH, 2002). Asa was listed as a “trader” in the 1850 census, residing in Milton, New Hampshire.[3] His family composition was:

    Asa Fox, age 39 [sic], trader, with $2000 of real estate, born Maine
    Harriett W. Fox, wife, age 40, born [Shapleigh] Maine She was daughter of Enoch and Dorothy [Heard] Wood,[4] and was formerly married to a Plummer [5]
    Charles D. Fox, age 16, carpenter, born New Hampshire
    Enoch E. W. [sic Elbridge W.] Fox, age 15, trader, born New Hampshire, who apparently dropped “Enoch” in his adult life
    Asa A. Fox age 13, born New Hampshire

    Asa Fox was born October 23, 1809, the son of Daniel and Mary (Roberts) Fox, and died in Milton, New Hampshire, on September 29, 1887, at age 77y, 11m, 23d,[6] where he is buried with his wife and a number of children.

    Ira Farnham is found as “farmer” at the same 1850 census, residing nearby at Acton, Maine.[7] His family composition is as follows:

    Ira Farnham, age 45, farmer, $1,500 worth of real estate, born Maine
    Sally Farnham, wife, age 45
    Hannah Farnham, age 21
    Elizabeth Farnham, age 16
    Ellen Farnham, age 11
    Sarah Farnham, age 5

    Living next door to Ira in 1850 was his widowed mother, Olive Farnham, age 84, who was living alone in her own home. 

    I went back to the census to try and locate Ira’s son-in-law [Sarah’s husband] Josiah W. Witham, but found that was not so simple owing to the multiple individuals found with that name.  In 1850 there were two persons named Josiah Witham residing in Milton, New Hampshire, both in their thirties, and [coincidentally] one with a wife named Sarah.[8]  But that census was of no help as Sarah and Josiah did not marry until 1867.  Moreover, Josiah was mourning the loss of Sarah who died April 14th of that same year, surely from complications at the birth of son Clarence A. Witham in March, who himself later died in July.[9] According to Boyle, Josiah was residing that year in nearby Wakefield,[10] but a review of that census failed to locate him.  His two-year-old son, Ira Farnham Witham, was living with his grandfather Ira Farnham at the time.

    The maintenance deed written by Ira and his wife Sally is a common document that specified that daughter Ellen Wiggin was to provide care for them, as well as their daughter Elizabeth Ann Farnham, for the rest of their natural lives.  Elizabeth was a spinster with no handicap noted in the census records.  The deed specifies that Ellen would provide them with nursing care, medicine, food and shelter, and a decent burial.  In return, Ellen was to receive the homestead, which sat on a hundred acres in Acton, and all other buildings thereon.  The acreage was described as bounded by John G. Sanborn, George N. Lord, Elias L. Miller, Josiah W. Witham, John E. Gerrish, Noah Merrow, and James Berry.   Ira’s personal estate, including a pair of oxen, one heifer, three sheep, and farming tools were part of the stipulation, which was signed by Ira and Sally before Elbridge N. Fox, Justice of the Peace, on December 17, 1881.  Coincidently, Elbridge Fox was born December 3, 1834, the son of the trader Asa and Harriett (Wood) Fox.  Because of the markings on this deed (“return to E.W. Fox”), I have suspicion he may have been the repository for all of these original deeds and documents that were auctioned. I noted earlier that Elbridge was enumerated at the 1850 census as “Enoch E.W. Fox.”  Apparently he did not use “Enoch” during his adult life, however, I have not confirmed if this was consistent with his name as shown on an original birth record.   

    The original maintenance deed is shown below:

    Ira Farnham 03

    Ira Farnham 04

    Ira and Sally Farnham's maintenance deed
    Click  image for enlarged view

    [1] Frederick Boyle, Early Families of Shapleigh and Acton, Maine: pg 136.

    [2] Ibid, citing Acton vital records.

    [3] 1850 U.S. Census, population schedule, New Hampshire, Strafford County, town of Milton, dwelling 19, family 19, pg 106, disk 4, CD454, Family Tree Maker.

    [4] Frederick Boyle, Early Families of Shapleigh and Acton, Maine: pg 158.

    [5] Ibid.

    [6] Frederick Boyle, Early Families of Shapleigh and Acton, Maine (Portsmouth, NH: Peter E Randall, Publisher, 2002), pg 136.

    [7] 1850 U S census, population schedule, Maine, York County, town of Acton, dwelling 189, family 189, disk 3, CD454, Family Tree Maker.

    [8] 1850 U S census, population schedule, New Hampshire, Strafford County, town of Milton, dwelling 8, family 8, pg 105, disk 4, CD454, Family Tree Maker, family of Josiah N Witham.

    [9] Frederick Boyle, Early Families of Shapleigh and Acton, Maine: pg 758.

    [10] Ibid.

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