Back into the Rabbit Hole…But for a Good Reason!

I thought I had moved on from the story of Marie Wetherill, the woman who married my cousin Joe Schlesinger, but then Janice Webster Brown, creator of the Genealogy Bloggers group on Facebook and the author of the wonderful blog Cow Hampshire Blog, found this incredible article about Marie’s family. And I decided to write this blog post both to honor Marie and her family and to honor Women’s History Month, a tradition I started a year ago after being inspired to do so by Janice herself.

Although the article does not reveal any additional information about Marie’s elusive father Francis Wetherill, it does reveal a great deal about Marie’s own background and the amazing line of women from whom she is descended. The article, “Fourteen Years Over A Century,” appeared in the February 4, 1892 edition of The Philadelphia Inquirer (p. 5) (transcription below):

the_philadelphia_inquirer_thu__feb_4__1892_

On Saturday next Mrs. Anna Catharine Sharp, the oldest inhabitant of Pennsylvania, will celebrate her one-hundred-and fourteenth birthday at her little home, 1226 Fleetwood avenue.  The interest of this remarkable case of longevity is heightened by a series of attending circumstances that mark it as unique.  Not only does this remarkable woman live here, but there are living under the same roof her daughter, granddaughter, great-granddaughter and great-great-granddaughter, making in all representatives of five generations living together.

Mrs. Sharp’s history is interesting.  Her maiden name was Dowell, and her mother was of German extraction.  She was born February 6, 1778, in Cherry alley, and at 15 years of age was confirmed in the German Protestant Church at Sixth and Spruce streets.  When she was 22 years old she married John Sharp, a native of this city, and lived with him at Bush Hill, which though now a thickly built-up portion of the town, was then a farming district.  This was the first change of residence that she ever made.

Her husband was in the war of 1812, and died in 1849. Some years before his death they moved to Knight’s court, and in 1850 she settled in her present home, thus making only three changes of residence and never living outside of this city.

A 73-Year-Old Baby

Her youngest child, Mrs. Smith, was born in 1819, and is consequently 73 years old.  She is living with her mother and takes care of the house for her.  Her grand-daughter, Mrs. Anna E. Wilson [Marie’s grandmother]. a professional nurse, is 43 years old.

Connected with Mrs. Frank Wetherill [Marie’s mother], the great-granddaughter, are also some peculiar circumstances. She is 23 years old, and was born in their present home.  Her oldest child was born in the same room as she was, and her great-grandmother was the nurse who take care of her husband [Frank Wetherill] when he was born.  There is a difference of 112 years between the ages of old Mrs. Sharp and the baby, Florie Wetherill.

Mrs. Sharp retains all her faculties with singular clearness, though in the last six months she has grown slightly deaf. Her hair is still black, with only a slight streak of gray running through it.  Her appetite is good and so are her teeth—which she keeps at night in a tumbler upon the bureau–and she can eat any kind of food that is prepared for the family.  She has never been sick, with the single exception of a slight illness a few years ago.

After her husband’s death she labored as a nurse for thirty-three years, principally among the better class of people.

There will be a quiet reunion of the five generations on Saturday to celebrate the good old lady’s birthday.

This article shed so much more light on how Marie Wetherill, the woman my father remembers so warmly, turned into such a devoted caretaker of her mother-in-law, my great-great-aunt Brendena Katzenstein Schlesinger.  Marie came from a long line of caretakers and women who were devoted to their families. Both Marie’s great-great-grandmother Anna Catharine Dowell Sharp and her grandmother Anna Smith WIlson were nurses. And how strange that Anna Catherine was the nurse who delivered Francis Wetherill, who would later marry her great-granddaughter, Mary Wilson.

They all lived together under one roof for so much of their lives in this little house supposedly at 1226 Fleetwood Avenue in Philadelphia, an address I could not find; however, I think it was at one time called 1226 Nagels Avenue, as Anna Catharine is listed there as John’s widow in the 1861 Philadelphia directory, and then in 1900, Marie, her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother were living at 1226 Jessup Street.  I believe that the street name was changed, but that Anna Catharine and her family continued to live in the same house, as the article reports.

In fact, by searching on stevemorse.org on the 1880 census for 1226 Jessup Street, I found Anna Catharine’s family living at 1226 Fleetwood Street, so the street name must have been changed from Fleetwood to Jessup sometime after 1892 when the article was written:

1880 census for the family of Anna Catherine Dowell Sharp Year: 1880; Census Place: Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: 1179; Family History Film: 1255179; Page: 116D; Enumeration District: 391; Image: 0430

1880 census for the family of Anna Catherine Dowell Sharp
Year: 1880; Census Place: Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: 1179; Family History Film: 1255179; Page: 116D; Enumeration District: 391; Image: 0430

Not surprisingly, the relationships as listed are confused on this census report.  First listed is  Anna (Smith) Wilson, Marie’s grandmother, a 32 year old widowed housekeeper. Below her is Jeremiah Smith, a single unemployed 28 year old man, presumably Anna’s brother. Then comes Catherine Sharp, Marie’s great-great-grandmother, then an 82 year old widow.  Following the boarder listed below Catherine is Mamie Wilson, Marie’s mother (also known as Mary), then eleven, and finally a four year old boy named Jeremiah Wilson.  Although it looks like Mamie and Jeremiah are listed as the children of the boarder, quite clearly they are the children of the head of household, Anna (Smith) Wilson. Then I noticed that above Anna Wilson is a listing for Mary Smith at 1226 Fleetwod, this being Marie’s great-grandmother, Mary Ann (Sharp) Smith, a 61 year old widowed dressmaker.

Thus, as of 1880, Marie’s grandmother was a widow raising two children and living with her own mother, a widow, and her grandmother, a widow.  It appears that Mary Ann Sharp Smith, Marie’s great-grandmother, was the only one employed outside the home.

Anna Catharine Dowell Sharp lived almost another full year after her 114th birthday, dying on January 22, 1893.  Her daughter Mary Ann Sharp Smith lived until January 30, 1909; she was 89 when she died.  Anna Catharine’s granddaughter, Anna Smith WIlson (Marie’s grandmother) died just two years after her mother on June 5, 1911; she was only 64. Marie’s mother, Mary/Mamie Wilson Wetherill Pierson, died on June 13, 1948, when she was 78.  And Marie lived to age 93, dying on August 31, 1981. No one came close to reaching Anna Catherine’s almost 115 year long life span.

So in honor of Women’s History Month, I salute Anna Catherine Dowell Sharp.  She was born during the Revolutionary War, married a man who fought in the War of 1812, was a nurse, and was the foremother of a long line of women devoted to their families, including Marie Wetherill Schlesinger, who married my cousin Joe. Anna Catharine Dowell Sharp lived from the early days of our country’s founding through the civil war and almost made it to the 20th century.  What stories she would have to share if we could talk to her today.

But now it really is time to turn back to my own family!

34 thoughts on “Back into the Rabbit Hole…But for a Good Reason!

  1. Wow, what an amazing story, Amy. Thanks so much for sharing it. I would love to have been a fly on the wall in that household. How did they all get along? Why did they all live together? Was the reason financial or other? So many questions are brewing in my head! I had to laugh at the dry humor of how great Anna’s teeth were hahaha.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Friday's Family History Finds | Empty Branches on the Family Tree

  3. What an incredible find…amazing family story Amy! With our (working) 23yr old granddaughter here the last 7 months, after relocating from CA to WA, I’m in heaven were beginning to apt hunt. I can’t even imagine 5 generations of woman together. Beautifully written Amy 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Yet another fascinating story – thanks so much for sharing it! You have a real knack for bringing your ancestors to life – even those related on collateral lines 🙂 How fortunate Janice found that newspaper article. And it’s interesting to see that American census returns also get the household relationships a tad mixed up – I’ve seen this with my own family in the UK!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! Oh, US census records are filled with so many errors—names completely bungled, relationships wrong, people missing, people counted twice. It is sort of scary that our Congressional districts are based on census results! Thanks for reading.

      Liked by 1 person

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