Jess & Steve’s Excellent Adventure

Jess and Steve’s excellent adventure began on June 8, 1921, when they signed on as crewmembers aboard the S.S. Western Comet in Baltimore, Maryland.[1]

Casbon Jesse J and Steven ship manifest NY 1921 Manifest of crew members of S.S. Western Comet, arriving in New York from St. Nazaire, France, 8 October, 1921. Column 4 shows that “J Casbon” and “SF Casbon” were engaged as crew members 8 June, in Baltimore. The form was apparently filled out incorrectly, as corrections were made to the ports of arrival and departure.
(Click on image to enlarge

“J” Casbon on the ship’s manifest is Jesse John Casbon, and “SF” Casbon is his younger brother Steven. Jesse and Steven were close. They were born less than two years apart in Wisconsin, Jesse in December 1898 and Steven in August 1900, the offspring of John Newton (1875–1945) and Anna Mae (Casbon, 1876–1957) Kitchel.

Their early lives were tumultuous. By 1905 the parents were separated, their father remaining in Wisconsin, and Anna and the two boys living in Minnesota (see “1905, Red Lake County, Minnesota” [link]).[2] By 1910, John and Anna were divorced. Anna and the two boys were staying with her father, Jesse Casbon, on his farm in Porter County, Indiana.[3]

The boys acquired a step-father in 1911 when Anna married a Michigan farmer named James H Fleming.[4] The available records are silent on their whereabouts during most of their teen years. Jesse enlisted in the Army in October, 1916 and served for the duration of the first World War, returning from Brest, France, in early 1919.[5] Upon his return, he moved back in with his family, who were now living in Newport News, Virginia.

In the 1920 census, we find James Fleming, the stepfather, employed as a watchman at a shipyard. Jesse is working as a clerk and checker at a warehouse, and Steven is listed as a steam engineer at a shipyard.[6]

Fleming James b abt 1864 Mich 1920 census VA
Detail from 1920 U.S. Census, Newport News, Virginia. (Click on image to enlarge)

It must have been during this time that they hatched the idea of the adventure. Maybe Steven’s work in the shipyard inspired them; or maybe Jesse wanted to return to France in peacetime with his little brother. At any rate, they joined the crew of Western Comet where they were listed as ordinary seamen (“OS” in column 2 of the ship’s manifest).

The Western Comet was built in 1918 by the Northwest Steel Company in Portland, Oregon.[7] Originally built under contract to the French government, the ship was transferred to the U.S. Navy after the United States entered World War I.[8] Following the war, the ship was transferred to the U.S. Shipping Board for use in commercial operations.[9]

Launch of Western Comet Ready to lead the Hun astray
Source: Heave Together, Official Organ of the Northwest Steel Company, Portland Oregon,
vol. 2, p. 695; image copy, Google Books ( : accessed 26 June 2018).

Signing up as fledgling sailors on a cargo ship bound for France was an adventure in itself. However, the boys were in for more than they expected. Contemporary newspapers recount the various mishaps that befell the ship, even before departing the port at Baltimore.

On June 13, five days after joining the crew, the ship was “badly disabled” while still in port, the damage being attributed to striking marine workers.[10] The nation was in the midst of a seamen’s strike involving 140,000 marine workers at all major ports.[11] This raises another possible reason why the two brothers decided to become sailors that summer: they might have been filling vacancies left by striking sailors.

Apparently, the damage to the ship was repaired quickly, as The New York Herald reported on June 19th that Western Comet had departed Baltimore on Friday, June 17.[12] However, on the same day the New York Tribune reported, “while outward bound Friday evening with coal for St Nazaire the str [steamer] Western Comet went aground off Hawkins Point and remained here today. Defective steerng [sic] gear is attributed as the cause of the accident.” Hawkins Point lies at the southern tip of Baltimore, where the outlet of the harbor begins to merge with the Chesapeake Bay. The ship was barely out of port and already in trouble!

Hawkins Point Map of Baltimore showing location of Hawkins Point. (Google Maps; click on image to enlarge)

Again, there did not appear to be any serious damage, but the cargo had to be unloaded in order to refloat the ship. Five days after its original departure, The New York Herald reported “Str Western Comet, hence for St. Nazaire, before reported aground at Hawkins Point, floated and is reloading cargo.” Two days later The Herald reported “Cape Henry, Va … Passed out … 23d, 9 AM, str Western Comet, … (from Baltimore) for St Nazaire,” meaning the ship had passed Cape Henry, Virginia, the outlet of the Chesapeake Bay and entrance to the Atlantic Ocean.

The voyage across the Atlantic was unremarkable. All was going well until …

American Steamer Aground Near France
Source: The Boston Post, 9 Jul 1921, p. 2, col. 7; online image, Newspaper Archive (accessed through participating libraries: 26 June 2018).

A similar report appeared in the New York Tribune on June 10.[13]

NY Tribune 10 Jul 1921 p19 col4

On Jun 25, more than two weeks after the mishap, The New York Herald reported that Western Comet was once again afloat, and “proceeded to St Nazaire, where she is expected to go into dry dock.”[14] The Bulletin of the American Bureau of Shipping gave a more detailed report:

“BORDEAUX, August 1, 1921.— The S.S. Western Comet. after being hard aground off St Nazaire, has been salvaged and dry docked in the same port. It is estimated that repairs will cost about $200,000. All French repair films along the coast are to bid on the work, and the job may be done in La Palice.”[15]

I haven’t been able to determine where the repair work was done. The next reports tell us that Western Comet departed St. Nazaire for New York on September 16, more than two months after foundering off the French coast.[16] The ship finally arrived in New York on October 8. There are reports that Western Comet was being towed, at least part way across the Atlantic, by another ship.[17] Apparently whatever repairs were done in France were not sufficient. Once in port in New York, the ship was immediately taken to dry dock for more work.[18]

The route
Approximate route taken by Jesse and Steven from Baltimore to St. Nazaire, and then to New York. (Google Maps; click on image to enlarge)

The adventure was over, and apparently so were Jesse and Steven’s careers as sailors. In 1922, we find the brothers living together in Baltimore (with their mother), now running their own confectionary business.[19]

The story of the brothers’ voyage on the Western Comet as I’ve told it is based entirely on contemporary records. It leaves many questions unanswered. Why did they sign up? What did they do while the ship was awaiting repairs in St. Nazaire? Was this the vacation of a lifetime or were they stuck on board ship? It was a small but memorable episode in their lives. I wonder if any tales have been handed down to later generations? If so, I would love to hear more of the story.

[1] “List of Aliens Employed on the Vessel as Members of Crew,” S.S. Western Comet, arriving New York 21 Oct 1921 from St. Nazaire, France, nos. 12 & 13, Casbon J and Casbon S.F.; imaged as “New York Passenger Arrival Lists (Ellis Island), 1892-1924,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 25 June 2018), Roll 3034, vol 6913-6914, 7 Oct 1921-10 Oct 1921 > image 203 of 990; citing NARA microfilm publication T715, roll 3034.
[2] 1905 Minnesota Census, Red Lake County, population schedule, Red Lake Falls, p. 344 (penned), no. 1079, Kitchen, Annie; imaged as “Minnesota State Census, 1905,” FamilySearch ( : 21 May 2014), Red Lake > Red Lake Falls, Ward 02 > image 8 of 10; citing State Library and Records Service, St. Paul.
[3] 1910 U.S. Census, Porter County, Indiana, population schedule, Center Township, enumeration district 137, sheet 10A, p. 26 (stamped), dwelling 155, family 158, Jesse Casbon; imaged as “United States Census, 1910,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 4 July 2018), Indiana > Porter > Center > ED 137 > image 19 of 26; citing NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 374.
[4] Oceana County, Michigan, Marriage Register, 1911, p. 205 (penned), record 3515, James H Fleming & Anna Casbon Kitchel, 16 Jun 1911, imaged as “Michigan, Marriage Records, 1867-1952,” Ancestry ( : accessed 25 June 2018), Registers, 1887 – 1925 >1911 – 1911 Manistee – Washtenaw >image 294 of 703; citing Michigan Department of Community Health, Division for Vital Records and Health Statistics.
[5] Passenger List, U.S.S. Virginia, sailing 12 Feb 1919 from Brest, France, Battery C 1st Battalion Trench Artillery, no. 79, Jesse Casbon;imaged as “US Army WWI Transport Service, Passenger Lists,” Fold3 ( : accessed 21 Jun 2018), Incoming >Virginian >1918 Nov 11-1919 Apr 20 >page 151; citing NARA, RG 92, roll 347, College Park, Maryland.
[6] 1920 U.S. Census, Warwick County, Virginia, population schedule, Newport News, enumeration district 86, sheet 5A, p. 5 (stamped), family 74, James H Flemming; imaged as “United States Census, 1920,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 25 July 2017), Virginia > Newport News (Independent City) > Newport News Ward 1 > ED 86 > image 18 of 21; citing NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 1899.
[7] “USS Western Comet (ID-3569),” Wikipedia ( : accessed 26 Jun 2018), rev. 28 Dec 17, 12:14.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] “Blaze Holds up Buckeye State,” Evening Public Ledger (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 13 Jun 1921, p. 8, col. 3; online image, “Chronicling America,” Library of Congress ( : accessed 5 Jul 2018).
[11] Florence Peterson, “Review of Strikes in the United States,” Monthly Labor Review 46 (May 1938), no. 5, p. 1056; online image, JSTOR ( : accessed 5 July 2018).
[12] “American Ports (By Telegraph),” The New York Herald, 19 Jun 1921, 2d news section, p. 9, col. 4; Library of Congress ( : accessed 5 July 2018).
[13] “Maritime Miscellany (Baltimore July 9),” New York Tribune, 10 Jul 1921, p. 19, col. 4; Library of Congress ( : accessed 26 June 2018).
[14] “Maritime Miscellany,” The New York Herald, 25 Jul 1921, p. 15, col. 1; Library of Congress ( : accessed 26 June 2018).
[15] R W Clark, “Repairs to S.S. Western Comet,” Bulletin of the American Bureau of Shipping, vol. 1, no. 5, September-October, 1921, p. 15; Google Books ( : accessed 26 June 2018).
[16] “Foreign Ports … Departures for New York,” New York Tribune, 21 Sep 1921, p. 20, col. 3; Library of Congress ( : accessed 26 June 2018).
[17]“Wireless Reports: from United States Shipping Board Daily Shipping Bulletin,” The New York Herald, 6 Oct 1921, p. 10, col. 3; Library of Congress ( : accessed 9 July 2018).
[18]“Arrived,” The New York Herald, 2d news section, 9 Oct 1921, p. 10, col. 3; Library of Congress( : accessed 5 July 2018).
[19] Polk’s Baltimore City Directory 1922 (Baltimore: R.L. Polk & Co., 1922), p. 509, entries for Casbon Bros, Jesse and Stephen, imaged as “U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995,” Ancestry ( : accessed 28 June 2018), Maryland >Baltimore >1922 >Baltimore, Maryland, City Directory, 1922, image 263 of 1156.


Hops Picking – Update

One of the most satisfying aspects of writing this blog has been the occasional comment from a previously unknown relative, who found the blog through Google or by similar means. These contacts not only give me a boost; they usually provide information that otherwise would not have been available to me and help to fill in gaps in the family tree. One of these correspondents is Alice Casban, a sixth cousin once removed, who contacted me after reading some of my posts concerning the Casban branch of the family.

Alice shared my latest post, “A Working Vacation in East Sussex,” with her grandfather, whose grandmother was Margaret (Donovan) Casban, the subject of that post. I won’t use his name, as I have not asked permission to do so. After showing him the post, Alice said,

My grandad used to go hops picking all the time, his face lit up talking about it! He remembered getting the hopper trains, and also the name of the Lodge before I even read it out!

By coincidence as well, my grandad also said he knew Joanna Feeley (mentioned in the article), he could even recall she wore a trilby hat and stayed nearby to all the Casbans down in Bodiam![1]

Alice was also kind enough to send this photo.

Casban Margaret and Ellen hops picking
“The group photo shows Roger Lovett (son of that man who owned Court Lodge Farm), second from the left is Margaret Casban, third from the left is Nell (my grandads mother).” Undated photo courtesy of Alice Casban, used with permission. (Click on image to enlarge)

Alice’s granddad would have been less than two years old when the article in my previous post was written, so evidently his grandmother Margaret must have continued picking hops at Court Lodge Farm for some years after the article came out. “Nell” was Ellen Kathleen Casbon (1908–2008), Margaret’s youngest child.

So, thank you, Alice, for sharing your grandfather’s reminiscences with us! Maybe other readers will be inspired to do the same.

[1] Alice Casban [(e-address for private use)] to Jon Casbon, e-mail 4 Jul 2018, “Our Casbon Journey”; privately held by Casbon [(e-address and street address for private use)].

A Working Vacation in East Sussex

This story comes from the Sussex Agricultural Express of August 31, 1934.[1]

(Click on image to enlarge)

I hope you’ll take the time to read the entire article. The highlighted section refers to “Mrs. Casban, of Croydon,” who has been picking hops at the same farm for 64 years. Mrs. Casban was Margaret (Donovan), the wife of Samuel C. Casban (1873–1949). Margaret was born in Addington, Surrey, in late 1869 to Timothy and Mary (Mahoney) Donovan, both of Irish descent.[2] She was just shy of 65 when this article was published. If her story is to be believed, she would have been only one year old when she started picking hops at Mr. Levett’s Court Lodge Farm. As we shall see, this might not be as impossible as it seems.

The story also tells us that Mrs. Casban had five daughters and three sons. This matches up with what I have in my database. The children were:

Samuel Edward (1893–1936)
Margaret Frances (1894–1970)
Florence Mary (1896–1974)
Johanna Elizabeth (1898–1978)
William (abt. 1901–1960)
Alice Eleanor (1904–1979)
James (1905–1965)
Ellen Kathleen (“Nell,” 1908–abt. 2008)

Several if not all of these children married and had children of their own, and they have living descendants today, some still living in Croydon.

The article gives us a glimpse of the hops agriculture in southeast England. Hops were an essential ingredient for the brewing of beer. At one point, hops were grown in almost every region of England, but now they are located mainly in the West Midlands and southeastern counties, including East Sussex, the setting of the article above.[3] This map shows the location of Bodiam, in East Sussex, the site of the Levett farm where Margaret Casban was working.

Map of England with markers for Meldreth, Cambridgeshire (Casbon ancestral home – upper marker),
Croyden, Surrey (home of Samuel & Margaret Casban) and Bodiam, East Sussex (lower marker).
Use ctrl + scroll to zoom in for more detail. (Google Maps)

As the article suggests, hop pickers “invaded” the region when the hops were ripe. Most came from London and surrounding areas. “At its height, from the [Nineteen] Twenties to the Fifties, about 200,000 East Enders – mostly women and children – made the annual pilgrimage down into the … hop gardens, filling the ‘hopper’s specials’ trains which left from London Bridge station in the early hours of the morning.”[4] For these families, the hop-picking season was a kind of working holiday, allowing them to get out of the city and into the country, while earning some much-needed extra money. “This mass exodus saw urban, poverty-stricken families packing up their possessions and animals and setting off in a ragged procession to Kent’s hop farms.”[5]

By the time the article was written, special trains were scheduled to move the families to the farms. Mrs. Casban relates how far they had to walk in the earlier years before the special trains. Considering the amount of travel and labor involved, the economic incentive must have been a powerful motivator.

Conditions at the hop farms were often rudimentary. Hoppers lived in unheated sheds and slept on straw-stuffed mattresses piled on twigs. They cooked over fires outdoors or in huge concrete cookhouses and washed their clothes in local streams. …

Farmers often provided vegetables and fruit, and the hoppers saved up to buy meat once a week. When their menfolk came down at the weekends they would poach rabbits, pheasants and fish. It was not unknown for local chickens to go missing, too.[6]

This short video, filmed in 1946, gives a good overview of the annual hop-picking migration.

These photos show what life was like on the hop farm. Margaret and her family must have encountered similar scenes.

Island families HOPPING IN KENT: HOP-PICKING IN YALDING, KENT, ENGLAND, UK, 1944HOPPING IN KENT: HOP-PICKING IN YALDING, KENT, ENGLAND, UK, 1944 HOPPING IN KENT: HOP-PICKING IN YALDING, KENT, ENGLAND, UK, 1944Hop_pickers_gather_around_a_camp_fire_for_their_evening_meal_on_a_hop_farm_in_Yalding,_Kent_during_1944._D22176
Top photo: Island History Trust Image Collection © THLHLA ( Remaining photos: Imperial War Museum Collection, © IWM (images D 22169, D 22167, D 22164, and D 22176,

We can see how Margaret might have gone hop-picking even as a baby!

Margaret Casban passed away in 1953.[7] How long did she continue to make the annual exodus to East Sussex? The 1939 Register, a census substitute taken before the outbreak of World War II, lists Margaret, her husband Samuel, and a couple of grandchildren “residing” at Court Lodge Farm in September of that year.[8] I wonder if any of her surviving grandchildren remember the hop picking adventure? Comments are welcome!

[1] “Hop Picking Begins: Record Invasion of Bodiam,” Sussex Agricultural Express August 31, 1934; imaged in the “British Newspapers Collection,” findmypast ( [accessed 19 November 2016). 
[2] “England and Wales Birth Registration Index, 1837-2008,” database, FamilySearch : accessed 17 November 2016), Margaret Donovan, 4th qtr, 1869, Croydon, vol. 2A/224, line 354; citing General Register Office, Southport. 1939 Register, Sussex, Battle registration district, schedule 51, subject 2, Margaret Casban; The National Archives, RG101/2535H/007/41 Letter Code: EKCTA.
[3] “History of Hops,” British Hop Association ( : accessed 23 Jun 2018).
[4] Melanie McGrath, “The hoppiest days of our lives: Recalling the summers spent in the fields,” ( : accessed 23 June 2018), rev. 6 Apr 2009 08:38.
[5] “Work: The hoppers of Kent,” BBC Home ( : accessed 23 Jun 2018).
[6] McGrath, “The hoppiest days of our lives,”
[7] “England and Wales Death Registration Index 1837-2007,” database, FamilySearch ( : 4 September 2014), Margaret Casban, 1st qtr,1953, Croydon, vol. 5G/215, line 51; citing General Register Office, Southport.
[8] 1939 Register, Sussex, Battle registration district, schedule 51, subject 2, Margaret Casban.

Joseph Casbon, Death Registration, 1847

Before getting to today’s topics, I have a couple of brief announcements. First, I’m happy to say that an article I wrote titled, “Thomas Casbon, James Scruby, and the Meldreth-Wayne County, Ohio Connection” has been published on the Meldreth History website. You can read the article here. Much of the information in this article has been presented in earlier blog posts, but the emphasis in the article is different, and there is some new information as well. I hope you will take a look.

Also, a previous article, “‛The Old Cow Got Round It’,” was also selected as the current Editor’s Choice on the Meldreth History site. The article in the website is nearly identical to an earlier blog post.

Finally, the blog will be on vacation for a while, as I will be doing a bit of traveling.

Now to today’s post. Joseph Casbon was the third son of Isaac (~1773–1825) and Susanna (Howes, ~1776–1840) Casbon. I have written previously about Joseph and his wife Lydia (Burgess). At that time, I only had three records or documents that mentioned Joseph by name. The first was a handwritten Casbon family history from about 1890 that mentioned Joseph as the son of Isaac (and gave the incorrect name for his mother) and the brother of Thomas, Williams and James.[1]

Isaac descendants
“Isaac Casbon Married Jayne Miller of Meldreth,
Near Royston Cambridge shire Englan both were raised and born in this place
There were born to them Thomas William Joseph, one dead he left no heirs James”
(Click on image to enlarge)

The other two records were Joseph’s marriage and burial records. There is no record of his birth or baptism, so we could only estimate his birth year as 1810 or 1811 based on the age (36) given when he was buried in 1847.[2] Now we have one more record to add to Joseph’s file: a copy of his civil death registration, which I recently ordered from the England and Wales General Register Office.[3]

death reg 1847
(Click on image to enlarge)

The most important new details in this record are the exact date and location of death, his age, occupation, and cause of death. We can see that he died on March 3, 1847 in Melbourn, Cambridgeshire. Melbourn is the village just east of Meldreth, where Joseph was probably born and raised. His stated age of 35 would give him a birth date sometime between March 4, 1811 and March 3, 1812. Since his burial record listed his age as 36, we need to extend the beginning of this range to 1810. His occupation was “Labourer.” Given his family background, it would have been unlikely to be anything else.

Two conditions are listed under Cause of Death: “Catarrh 4 months” and “Pulmonary Consumption” (the word under this is “Certified,” which probably means a doctor certified his death). Neither of these terms are commonly used today. Catarrh in its simplest sense means “a discharge from a mucus membrane.”[4] In America, the term was generally restricted to inflammation of the membranes of the air passages.[5] In England, catarrh referred more specifically to inflammation of the trachea and bronchi (what we would call bronchitis).[6] An 1856 medical dictionary has this to say of the English version:

It is commonly an affection of but little consequence, but apt to relapse and become chronic. It is characterized by cough, thirst, lassitude, fever, watery eyes, with increased secretion of mucus from the air-passages. … Sometimes, the inflammation of the bronchial tubes is so great as to prove fatal.[7]

Consumption, in the generic sense, meant “progressive emaciation or wasting away,” but the term was most often applied to pulmonary tuberculosis, as in Joseph’s case.[8] In the early 19th century, the cause of tuberculosis was unknown, and many believed it to be hereditary or caused by constitutional weakness.[9] It wasn’t until 1865 that tuberculosis was determined to be infectious, and not until 1882 that the causative bacillus was identified.[10] There were no effective treatments until the twentieth century.

To summarize the cause of death for Joseph, he had pulmonary tuberculosis, a chronic wasting infection. In his final months, he developed catarrh; probably an accelerated phase of his underlying condition, with increased cough and mucus production.

In my earlier post about Joseph and his family, I mentioned that five of the six family members died within a five-year period, and speculated that tuberculosis was the likely cause.[11] This is certainly supported by Joseph’s death record. It’s likely that the infection was spread among the family members, all living in close quarters.

I was curious about the informant for the facts of the death record, a woman named Sarah Worland. She was most likely Sarah Worland, born about 1788 in Meldreth, who lived within one or two houses of Lydia (and Joseph?) Casbon.

I have never been able to find Joseph in the 1841 census, the first census to list names of household members. I have no idea why he doesn’t appear in the census, but clearly he was living in Melbourn when he died in 1847.

[1] Handwritten Casbon family history, ca. 1888–92, photocopy, whereabouts of original unknown, private collection of Jon Casbon.
[2] Parish of Meldreth (Cambridgeshire, England), Register of Burials 1813-75, p. 47, no. 373, Joseph Casbon, 7 Mar 1847; imaged as “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 28 April 2017), image 466 of 699; citing FHL microfilm 1,040,542, item 10.
[3] Cambridgeshire, England, Royston and Buntingford district, Melbourn sub-district, death registration, 1847, no. 92, Joseph Casbon (indexed as Caston, age 35), 3 Mar, Melbourn; image copy (downloaded as pdf file), General Registration Office, Southport, vol. 6/491.
[4] Robley Dunkinson, Medical Lexicon: a Dictionary of Medical Science; Containing a Concise Explanation of the Various Subjects and Terms of Physiology, Pathology, Hygiene, Therapeutics, Pharmacology, Obstetrics, Medical Jurisprudence, &c, 13th ed. rev. (Philadelphia: Blanchard and Lea, 1856), p. 179, “Catarrh’”; online image, Hathi Trust Digital Library ( : accessed 29 May 2018).
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid, p. 233, “Consumption.”
[9] John Frith, “History of Tuberculosis. Part 1 – Phthisis, Consumption and the White Plague,” Journal of Military and Veterans’ Health, vol. 22, no. 2, online edition ( : accessed 29 May 2018).
[10] Ibid.
[11] Jon Casbon, “Joseph and Lydia (Burgess) Casbon,” 2 Mar 2017, Our Casbon Journey ( : accessed 29 May 2018).

Cora Ann (Casbon) Sams (1861–1940)

Cora Ann was the first child born to Sylvester V (1837–1927) and Adaline (Aylesworth, 1842–1868) Casbon. She was born September 1, 1861 in Porter Township, near Hebron, in Porter County, Indiana.[1] Her parents may well have been living with Adaline’s family at the time, as they had just recently been married, and Sylvester did not make his first land purchase until a few months after Cora’s birth.[2]

Cora’s mother, Adaline, died in 1868, before Cora was seven years old.[3] She was thirteen when her “second mother,” Harriet (Perry) Casbon died in 1874.[4] She was sixteen when Sylvester married for the third time, to Mary Mereness.[5] The loss of two mothers must have been very difficult for her. I suspect she had to “grow up fast” and take on many of the household and child care duties.

She was eighteen when she married John Sams, a labourer working on a farm in nearby Boone Township.[6] John seems to have come from an itinerant family. He was born in Tennessee, but moved to Kentucky before he was six years old and then came to Porter County while still “in his youth.”[7] Eventually, John became “one of Porter county’s most Influential and progressive farmers.”[8]

John and Cora had four children at widely spaced intervals. The first, a daughter named Vina Mae, was born in June 1881.[9] The next child was a son who died shortly after birth in 1892.[10] Goldie was born in 1898 and Lester in 1904.[11] Cora became a widow in 1916 when the automobile John was in was struck by a train.[12] She continued to live in the Hebron area until her death on March 16, 1940.[13]

I received this photograph a number of years ago from the wife of one of Cora’s grandsons.

John Sams family 1892
Portrait of Cora, Mae and John Sams, 1892; back of the photo is on the right. Courtesy of Rosemary Sams.
(Click on image to enlarge)

I hope you will take the time to study the photograph. It is lovely by itself, but is even more remarkable because of the written description in Cora’s own hand.

Mae was 11 years old and could not walk. Taken 1892
My dress was dark green water-wave silk (soft) with plain green silk
ribbon was pale pink – 2 piece dress know then as a basque with croquette ball buttons

Mae dress green navy and orange wool plaid with navy blue plush white collar, green bow, gold chain with gold purse as a charm
Dads suit black and high top black boot which were very stylish those days also wore a vest
                                                                                                                   Cora Sams

That’s an amazing dress! The description really brings it to life and highlights how important written communications were in the days before telephones and color photography. Given that Mae was eleven years old, the photo must have been taken in the latter half of 1892, within a few months of the birth and death of their son. From their clothing it seems that John must have already been well on his way to becoming a prosperous farmer.

It seems that Cora’s words were written several years after the photo was taken, since she talks about “those days.” Was she writing to someone in particular, or just recording her memories for posterity? Whatever the answer, we are lucky today to be able to share this link to the past.

[1] “South County Woman Dies,” The (Valparaiso, Indiana) Vidette-Messenger, 16 Mar 1940, p. 1, col. 5; online image, Newspaper Archive (accessed through participating libraries: 11 July 2016).
[2] Porter County, Indiana, Deed Record Book N, p. 12, Giles Aylesworth to Sylvester Casbon, 19 Dec 1881; imaged as “Deed records, 1836-1901,” FamilySearch( : accessed 19 Sep 2017), image 378 of 880; citing FHL microfilm 1,703,772, item 2.
[3] Weston A. Goodspeed and Charles Blanchard, Counties of Porter and Lake, Indiana: Historical and Biographical: Illustrated (Chicago: F.A. Battey & Co., 1882), p. 706: online image, Internet Archive ( : accessed 22 Aug 2016).
[4] Ibid.
[5] Lake County, Indiana, Marriage Record D, 5-10-1877 to 8-19-1885, p. 31 (stamped), 2d entry, Sylvester Casbon and Mary Mereness, 13 Dec 1877; imaged as “Indiana Marriages, 1811-2007,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 15 April 2018), Lake > 1877-1885 Volume D4 > image 54 of 329; citing FHL microfilm 2,414,589.
[6] 1880 U.S. Census, Porter County, Indiana, population schedule, Boone Township, p. 10 (penned) B, family 98, John Sames in household of A.W. Smith; imaged as “United States Census, 1880,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 19 April 2018), Indiana > Porter > Boone > ED 145 > image 10 of 17; citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 305.
[7] “More About Accident That Shocked City, The Porter County (Indiana) Vidette, 23 Feb 1916. p.3; online image, Newspaper Archive (accessed through participating libraries: 10 Jul 2016).
[8] Ibid.
[9] “United States Social Security Death Index,” database, FamilySearch ( : accessed 11 Jul 2016), Mae Felty, Mar 1973 (b. 9 Jun 1881); citing U.S. Social Security Administration, Death Master File.
[10] Find A Grave, database with images ( : accessed 25 May 2018), memorial for “infant son” Sams, b. 22 May 1892, Find A Grave memorial no. 183415597, created by “Jim”; citing Cornell Cemetery, Hebron, Porter, Indiana.
[11] Indiana, State Board of Health, death certificate no. 190 (stamped), Porter County, Boone Township, Goldie M.A. Sams, b. 5 Feb 1898, d. 1 Mar 1913; imaged as “Indiana, Death Certificates, 1899-2011,” Ancestry ( : accessed 25 May 2018), Certificate >17 >1913 >image 238 of 1793; citing Indiana Archives and Records Administration; Indianapolis. “United States Social Security Death Index,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 11 Jul 2016), Lester Sams, Sep 1984 (b. 9 May 1904).
[12] Indiana, State Board of Health, death certificate no. 134 (stamped), La Porte County, La Porte Township, John Sams, 17 Feb 1916; Ancestry ( : accessed 19 April 2018), Certificate >1916 >09, image 1796 of 2137.
[13] “South County Woman Dies,” The (Valparaiso, Indiana) Vidette-Messenger, 16 Mar 1940.

John Casball, Cordwainer

This record from 1718 caught my eye.[1]

John Casball appr duties 1718 Record of apprenticeship duties paid by John Casball 12 Dec 1718. (Click on image to enlarge)

The original source for this record is a register of duties, or taxes, paid to the Board of Stamps in London by master trades- and craftsmen for the indenture of apprentices. When a master took on a new apprentice, he was paid a fee, usually by the parents of the apprentice.[2] This fee was taxed at the rate of 2.5 percent, or 6 pence for every 1 pound.[3]

Reading the entry, we can see that “John Casball of Meldreth Cambridge Cordwainr” had an apprentice named James Sharbolt. The entry contains three dates, and I’m not completely sure what they mean. The first date, Friday, December 12 (far left) seems to be the date that the duty was recorded or received in London. The second date, October 29, might be the date the duty was paid. The third date, September 29th, is the day the indenture (the formal apprenticeship agreement) began. Following the third date are the words “Comon Indr & Counterpt.” I believe these refer to the documents presented when the tax was paid: common indenture (the apprenticeship contract) and counterpart (a second copy of the contract). These would have been presented as proof of the apprenticeship and the amount paid to the master. The next column shows the term, or duration, of the apprenticeship: “7 yr fr 29 Sept ult,” meaning “seven years from last September 29.”

The columns on the far right show, first, the apprenticeship fee, with separate columns for pounds, shillings, and pence; and the tax paid against that fee, also in pounds, shillings, and pence. In this case, John Casball received a fee of four pounds to serve as James Sharbolt’s master, and he paid the tax of two shillings (equivalent to twenty-four pence).

The real reason this record caught my eye was the name, John Casball, and his occupation, Cordwainer. Casball is one of the many early versions of the surname that eventually settled down to become today’s Casbon (see my post “What’s in a Name?”). Being from Meldreth, John Casball is some sort of ancestor, although possibly not in my direct line. (My post, “Stuck on John,” explained why I haven’t been able to trace my ancestry back any farther than Thomas Casbon, born in 1743.[4])

What was a cordwainer? In simple terms, a cordwainer was a shoemaker.[5] The etymology of the word is interesting: it comes from Old French cordewan, “of Cordoba (Spain).”[6] Originally, cordwainers used the finest goats’ leather from Cordoba, known as cordovan, to make their shoes.[7] Cordwainers made shoes from new leather, as opposed to cobblers, who used old leather to repair shoes.[8]

We know from his occupation and the fact that he took on an apprentice that John Casball was a master craftsman. What else do we know about him? This is where the going gets tough, in genealogical terms. Based on the fact that he signed an apprenticeship contract in 1718, he must have been born sometime in the 1600s, most likely in the latter half of the century. A likely candidate would be John Catsbold, the son of William and Ann, who was baptized in Melbourne in 1672.[9]

Casbold John bp 1672 Melbourn
Detail from parish records, Melbourne, Cambridgeshire: “John the Sonn of William and Ann Catsbold was baptized the first of July 1672.” (Click on image to enlarge)

However, in nearby Fowlmere, just another mile or two down the road from Melbourn, John Casbourne (son of John and Anne) was baptized in 1674.[10] Either of these two men could plausibly be the cordwainer of the 1718 apprenticeship record.

The first mention we have of John living in Meldreth is the baptism of “Anne the daughter of John Cassbell and of Anne his wife” on June 29, 1712.[11] (She was buried the next day.[12]) Several other children were born (or buried) to John and Anne over the next several years. Although John’s occupation is not indicated in these records, there is no indication that another person with that name was living in Meldreth at the time, so he is probably our cordwainer. Unfortunately, I haven’t found the marriage record of John and Anne, so I don’t know her maiden name, nor when they were married.

As a skilled craftsman, John should have been on a higher social standing than most of the Casbon ancestors, who were agricultural laborers. However, it apparently did not mean he was on a higher economic status, as evidenced in the wording of his burial record: “John Cassbell, a poor shoemaker was buried in Woolen / March the 26th 1727.”[13]

John Casbell burial 1727
Detail from parish records, Meldreth, Cambridgeshire, burials 1727. (Click on image to enlarge)

His widow, Anne, was buried in Meldreth just five years later, in 1732.[14]

As to the young apprentice, James Sharbolt, I have some ideas about who he was and where he was from, but no proof, so I will leave his history for someone else to discover.

[1] England, Board of Stamps, Register of apprenticeship duties, p. 153 (penned), 12 Dec 1718, item 1, John Casball (master) & James Sharbolt (apprentice); imaged as “UK, Register of Duties Paid for Apprentices’ Indentures, 1710-1811,”Ancestry ( : accessed 10 May 2018), 1715-1719 >image 1170 of 2631; citing The National Archives, IR1, piece 6.
[2] “England Apprenticeship Indentures 1710 to 1811,” FamilySearch Wiki ( : accessed 10 May 2018), rev. 6 Sep 14, 17:53.
[3] “England Trade Apprenticeship Records (National Institute),” FamilySearch Wiki ( : accessed 10 May 2018), rev. 8 Sep 14, 21:07.
[4] Jon Casbon, “Stuck on John,” 17 Feb 2017, Our Casbon Journey ( : accessed 11 May 2018).
[5] “Cordwainer,” Oxford Living Dictionaries (English) ( : accessed 11 May 2018).
[6] Ibid.
[7] “Welcome to the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers,” The Worshipful Company of Cordwainers ( : accessed 11 May 2018).
[8] “What is a cordwainer,” The Honourable Cordwainers’ Company ( : accessed 11 May 2018).
[9] Parish of Melbourn (Cambridgeshire, England), Parish Register, n.p. (previous page heading “Baptizings 1668”), record for John Catsbold, 1 Jul 1672; browsable image, “Parish registers for Melbourne, 1558-1877,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 10 May 2018), image 586 of 684; citing FHL microfilm 1,040,540, item 11.
[10] “England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” database, FamilySearch ( : accessed 11 May 2018), John Casbourne, 4 Dec 1674; FHL microfilm 6,035,580.
[11] Parish of Meldreth (Cambridgeshire, England), General Register [1682–1782], n.p. (baptisms 1707–12), Anne Cassbell, 29 Jun 1712; accessed as “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877,” browsable images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 29 August 2017), image 102 of 699; citing FHL microfilm 1,040,542, item 2.
[12] Ibid (burials 1704–13); image 47 of 699.
[13] Ibid (burials 1726-9), John Cassbell, 26 Mar 1727; image 50 of 699.
[14] Ibid (burials 1729-31), Anne Cassbel, 9 Mar 1731/2; image 51 of 699.


The Death Certificate of Mary (Payne) Casbon (~1832–1903)

Death certificates can be a valuable source of information, especially when other sources about a given person are limited or cannot be found. However, the accuracy of the information is often questionable, depending on how and by whom the information was obtained. Both of these statements apply to the death certificate of Mary (Payne) Casbon, third wife and widow of James Casbon (~1813–1884).[1]

Mary P Casbon May 1903 (Click on image to enlarge)

I just found this death certificate on Ancestry last week. It did not come up on earlier searches because her last name was transcribed as Carbon instead of Casbon. Before finding this, the only sources I had concerning Mary were her 1876 marriage registration, 1880 and 1900 U.S. censuses, and an entry on Let’s take a closer look at her death certificate to see what it can tell us.

Death cert top
(Click on image to enlarge)

The top section of the certificate gives Mary’s name as “Mary P. Casbon.” The “P” probably stands for Payne, her maiden name. Although the “s” in her surname does look somewhat like an “r,” it is distinctly different than the “r” in her first name. The certificate gives the place of death as Center Township in Porter County. No town, city or street address is given. If she had died in Valparaiso, the county seat and main population center of the township, I would have expected that to be written. This could simply be a clerical oversight, but it could also mean that she died elsewhere in the township, outside of city limits. I’ll return to this thought in a few paragraphs.

Death cert left
(Click on image to enlarge)

You’ll notice that the “Personal and Statistical Particulars” section of the certificate was completed by Charles Casbon, the informant for the death certificate. This would have been Charles Thomas Casbon (1840–1915), son of Thomas (~1803–1888) and nephew of Mary’s deceased husband, James. It’s interesting to me that Charles was the informant. Mary had two step-children living in Porter County—Amos and Alice—both children of James by his previous wife, Mary (Jackson, ~1833–before 1876). (James’ other daughter Margaret had just died on April 30, 1903, in La Porte County.[2]) Why wasn’t either Amos or Alice the informant? I’ve been told that Mary and her step-children weren’t on the best of terms, but this may not be the reason. They lived several miles further south, in Porter Township. Not only was Charles closer, but it’s even possible that Mary was staying with him at the time of her death.

In the 1900 census, Mary was living in Hebron, in the southern part of the county.[3]

Mary Casbon widow of James 1900 Census Boone twp
Detail from 1900 U.S. Census, Hebron Town, Boone Township, Porter County, Indiana. (image is a composite, placing column headings next to Mary’s entry; click to enlarge)

Of note is that fact that Mary lived with a “servant,” named Mary E. Lytle, who’s occupation is listed as “Nurse.” This suggests that Mary’s illness had been longstanding. Incidentally, Mary Lytle was almost certainly the widow of Thomas G. Lytle, a wealthy manufacturer and former three-time mayor of Valparaiso.[4] I suspect that, rather than a servant, she was more of a live-in nurse and caregiver.

If Mary’s home was Hebron, why was she in Center Township when she died? Perhaps in her final illness, she could either no longer afford or was too sick to live on her own. It might have been easier to get the medical care she needed in Valparaiso. If so, staying with a relative would have been a practical solution. A 1902 Valparaiso City Directory lists Charles’ address as “Cemetery av[e] (outside City Limits).[5]” Cemetery Avenue is known today as Linwood Avenue, and leads from the city to the western edges of Graceland and Maplewood cemeteries. If Mary had been staying with Charles, this would explain why her place of death was listed as Center Township and not Valparaiso proper.

The fact that Charles was the informant doesn’t mean he could be counted on to provide accurate information for the death certificate. As a step-nephew, it’s unlikely that he had the detailed knowledge to correctly answer questions about Mary’s life.

For example. Charles gives Mary’s birth date as May 4, 1833. We don’t know Mary’s real date of birth, but on the 1900 census, it was given (presumably by her) as October, 1832.[6] Her grave stone shows her age at death as “69 yrs 8 mos & 20 d,” which would give her a birthdate of about August 20, 1833.[7] So, the best we can say about her birthdate is “about 1832 or 1833.”

Charles said that Mary’s father’s name was Samuel Payne and mother’s as “do not know.” It’s possible that Charles was correct, but we can’t rely on this as first-hand information. It’s easy to get names confused unless one knows the individuals in question. Unfortunately, we have to take everything in this section of the certificate with a grain of salt.

The next section of the certificate tells us why Mary died.

Death cert right
(Click on image to enlarge)

This section was completed by a doctor, which means the handwriting can be a challenge. Fortunately, I have a lot of experience reading doctors’ handwriting.

We see the date of death written as May 10, 1903. This is interesting for a couple of reasons. First of all, her grave stone gives the date as May 9. Why the difference? If we read on, the attending physician writes that he last saw Mary alive on May 6th, and that the time of death is documented as twelve o’clock a.m. Did she really die at exactly midnight? I doubt it. What seems more likely to me is that she died sometime on the 9th, then the doctor was called, and he arrived to pronounce her dead sometime around midnight. At any rate, even though the date on the grave stone may be when she actually died, the date on the death certificate is the official date.

Now look closely at the Chief and Immediate causes of death. They are both surprising and sobering. The chief cause of death is listed as Morphinism, and the immediate cause, Starvation. In other words, Mary was addicted to morphine and her addiction had progressed to the point that she was no longer eating, so that she starved to death.

I have a copy of The Principles and Practice of Medicine, written by William Osler, M.D., and published in 1901. Here’s what it has to say about morphinism.

Morphia Habit (Morphinomania; Morphinism). This habit arises from the constant use of morphia—taken at first, as a rule, for the purpose of allaying pain. The craving is gradually engendered, and the habit in this way acquired. … The habit is particularly prevalent among women and physicians who use the hypodermic syringe for the alleviation of pain. … The confirmed opium-eater often presents a very characteristic appearance. There is a sallowness of the complexion which is almost pathognomonic, and he becomes emaciated, gray, and prematurely aged. He is restless, irritable, and unable to remain quiet for any time. … Persons addicted to morphia are inveterate liars, and no reliance whatever can be placed upon their statements. In many instances this is not confined to matters relating to the vice. … Finally a condition of asthenia is induced, in which the victim takes little or no food and dies from the extreme bodily debility.[8]

This last statement appears to be exactly what happened to Mary.

Dr. Osler goes on to say:

The condition is one which has become so common, and is so much on the increase, that physicians should exercise the utmost caution in prescribing morphia … . Under no circumstances should a patient be allowed to use the hypodermic syringe, and it is even safer not to intrust this dangerous instrument to the hands of the nurse.[9]

There is a striking parallel between Mary’s addiction and today’s “opioid crisis.” A recent article in Smithsonian says

By 1895, morphine and opium powders, like OxyContin and other prescription opioids today, had led to an addiction epidemic that affected roughly 1 in 200 Americans. Before 1900, the typical opiate addict in America was an upper-class or middle-class white woman. Today, doctors are re-learning lessons their predecessors learned more than a lifetime ago.[10]

We don’t know how or why Mary became addicted, but there is a decent chance that it was legally prescribed for her at some point. One hundred fifteen years later, our country is still seeking solutions to the problem of opioid addiction.

The attending physician who signed Mary’s death certificate was Otis B. Nesbit, M.D. The 1912 History of Porter County Indiana describes him in these terms: “Possessing an excellent knowledge of the science which he has chosen as a profession, Otis B. Nesbit, M.D., of Valparaiso, has acquired prominence as a physician and built up a most satisfactory patronage in the city and its suburbs.”[11] He received his medical degree in 1902 having previously received a degree as a pharmacist.[12] When Mary died, in 1903, he would have just been building up his practice, and may very well have been the newest physician in town. As such, he might have taken on cases that his colleagues preferred not to deal with, and Mary’s could easily have been such a case.

The final section of the death certificate contains two names of minor historical interest. The place of burial is given as Maple Wood (now Maplewood) cemetery, and the undertaker’s name is F.A. Lepell. A 1902 Valparaiso city directory lists Frank A. LePell as an “undertaker, embalmer and funeral director, also picture frames and mouldings.”[13] Mr. LePell came from a long line of undertakers, originally from Berlin, Germany.[14] His grandfather and father came to Valparaiso in 1842 and “they were the first undertakers and furniture dealers of Porter County.[15]

Under Mr. LePell’s name is the signature of the “Health Officer or Deputy.” Although difficult to make out (doctor’s handwriting again!) this says “A.P. Letherman.” Andrew P. Letherman, M.D. is described as “distinguished not only for his professional knowledge and skill, but as being the longest-established physician in Porter County [in 1912].”[16] Doctor Letherman’s father, also a physician, brought his family to Valparaiso in 1853.[17] His son, A.P., graduated from medical school in 1871, and thence began his own practice in Valparaiso.[18]

As stated in the death certificate, Mary Payne Casbon was buried in Maplewood Cemetery. She has a nice memorial with this inscription: “Sleep on dear Sister and take thy rest/ To call the[e] home God thought it best.”[19] The word Sister has me puzzled. Did Mary have an actual sister living in Valparaiso, or does this simply mean Sister as a term of endearment for a fellow Christian?


find a grave image
(Click on image to enlarge)

[1] Indiana, State Board of Health, Certificate of Death, Porter County, p. 39 (stamped), Mary P Carbon, 10 May 1903; imaged as “Indiana, Death Certificates, 1899-2011,” Ancestry ( : accessed 27 April 2018), Certificate >1903 >10, image 339 of 2788; citing Indiana State Board of Health. Death Certificates, 1900–2011, Microfilm, Indiana Archives and Records Administration, Indianapolis.
Indiana, State Board of Health, Certificate of Death, La Porte County, p. 54 (stamped), Maggie Biederstadt, 30 Apr 1903; imaged as “Indiana, Death Certificates, 1899-2011,” Ancestry ( : accessed 1 May 2018), Certificate >1903 >6, image 2083 of 2771; citing Indiana State Board of Health.
1900 U.S. Census, Porter County, Indiana, population schedule, Boone Township, enumeration district 79, sheet 13A, p. 13 (stamped), dwelling 315, family 316, Casben, Mary; imaged as “United States Census, 1900,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 27 April 2018),  Indiana > Porter > ED 79 Boone Township Hebron town, image 26 of 29; citing NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 398.
Weston A. Goodspeed & Charles Blanchard, Counties of Porter and Lake Indiana: Historical and Biographical, Illustrated (Chicago: F.A. Battey & Co., 1882), pp. 257-8; online image, Internet Archive ( : accessed 1 May 2018).
Bumstead’s Valparaiso City and Porter County Business Directory (Chicago: Bumstead & Co., 1902), p. 67; imaged as
“U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995,” Ancestry (  : accessed 1 May 2018), Indiana >Valparaiso >1902 >Valparaiso, Indiana, City Directory, 1902, image 22 of 159.
[6] 1900 U.S. Census, Porter County, Indiana, pop. sched., Boone Township, en. dist. 79, sheet 13A, p. 13, dwell. 315, fam. 316 (stamped), Casben, Mary.
[7] Find A Grave, database with images ( : accessed 27 April 2018), memorial page for Mary Payne Casbon (1833-1903), ID no. 109800943, created by Alana Knochel Bauman; citing Maplewood Cemetery, Valparaiso, Indiana.
[8] William Osler, M.D., The Principles and Practice of Medicine: Designed for the Use of Practitioners and Students of Medicine, 3d ed. (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1901), p. 384.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Erick Trickey, “Inside the Story of America’s 19th-Century Opiate Addiction,” 4 Jan 18, ( : accessed 1 May 2018).
[11] History of Porter County Indiana: a Narrative Account of its Historical Progress, its People and its Principal Interests, vol. 2 (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1912), pp. 545-6.; online image, Hathi Trust Digital Library (;view=1up;seq=203 : accessed 28 April 2018).
[12] Ibid, p. 545.
[13] Bumstead’s Valparaiso City and Porter County Business Directory, p. 106; Ancestry ( : accessed 1 May 2018 ), image 42 of 159.
[14] Pictorial and Biographical Record of La Porte, Porter, Lake and Starke Counties, Indiana (Chicago: Goodspeed Brothers, 1894), p. 505; online image, Internet Archive ( : accessed 1 May 2018).
[15] Ibid.
[16] History of Porter County, Indiana, vol. 2, p. 445; Internet Archive (;view=1up;seq=101 : accessed 1 May 2018).
[17] Ibid, p. 446.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Find A Grave, memorial page for Mary Payne Casbon.

Photograph: Donald G. and Herbert A. Casbon

Donald and Herb Casbon
Donald Glen Casbon (L) and Herbert Aylesworth (R) Casbon, undated photo. Courtesy of Michael J Casbon.
(Click on image to enlarge)

I just love old photos, and this is one of my favorites. It was posted to the “Casbon Family” Facebook group several years ago by Michael Casbon, grandson of Herbert.[1] The two subjects are Donald Glen Casbon (1913–1990) and Herbert “Herb” Aylesworth Casbon (1910–1989). Both were sons of Amos James (1869–1956) and Carrie Belle (Aylesworth, 1873–1958) Casbon.

There are so many things I like about this photograph. Unlike most snapshots, it is taken close up, so we can see wonderful detail in the faces, the clothing and the automobile. Are those freckles? We don’t have those on my side of the family. I wonder where they came from? I’m almost certain the car is a 1926 or 1927 (the last two production years) Model T four-door sedan. Don and Herb are both wearing identical overalls and shirts and they look like they are either getting ready to start, or just finishing the day’s work. Herb has the hint of a smile, a self-assured look, like he’s happy to have his photo taken. Don – well, maybe he’s had a long day, or wasn’t in the mood for a portrait! At least it looks like he brushed his hair back for the picture.

The photo is undated, but my guess would be the early 1930s. Don would have been 17 in 1930 and Herb 20. Don looks like he’s in his late teens, but he could be in his early 20s. Both were still living on their parents’ farm in Porter Township, Porter County, Indiana, when the 1930 census was counted.[2] That’s probably where the photograph was taken.

The photo reminds me of so many pictures taken during the United States’ dust bowl years of the 1930s (even though the dust bowl wasn’t in Indiana). As a matter of fact, it reminds me of a very specific symbol of those times. Did anyone else have this impression?

Henry Fonda in The Grapes of Wrath (1940, Twentieth Century Fox)

The straps on his overalls are a little different, but otherwise Henry Fonda is wearing the same outfit as Herb.

If anyone has favorite memories or stories about Don and Herb to share, I would love to hear them!

[1] Michael Casbon, posting at “Casbon Family,” Facebook ( : accessed 23 April 2018), photograph of Donald & Herbert Casbon.
[2] 1930 U.S. Census, Porter County, Indiana, population schedule, Porter Township, enumeration district 64-19, sheet 5A, p. 180 (stamped), family 108, Caston, Amos; imaged as “United States Census, 1930,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 14 April 2017), Indiana > Porter > Porter > ED 19 > image 9 of 20; citing NARA microfilm publication T626, roll 622.


Mary (Mereness) Casbon (1850–1932)

I’ve been writing about the wives of my second great-grandfather, Sylvester V Casbon (~1837–1927). The deaths of Adaline (Aylesworth, 1842–1868) and Harriet (Perry, ~1840-1874) must have been very hard on him and his children. Sylvester was 37 years old when Harriet died. Once again, the children needed a mother and he needed a wife. He was prospering as a farmer and, from that standpoint, would have made a good match for many a daughter or young widow. However, in the eyes of the local women, the outcome of his first two marriages might have diminished his prospects as an eligible bachelor. It would be another three years after Harriet’s death until he remarried. Her name was Mary Mereness. and they were married in Lake County, Indiana, on December 13, 1877.[1]

Sylvester C Mary M marriage record
Marriage record of Sylvester Casbon and Mary Mereness, Lake County, Indiana. (Click on image to enlarge)

Mary was the daughter of John I and Eva (Zea) Mereness. Her birth date is recorded in several sources (including her grave stone) as April 15, 1851, but this can’t be correct, since she is listed as being four months old on the 1850 census, which was enumerated on August 16, 1850.[2] So, I think the correct birth date is actually April 15, 1850. The records do agree that she was born in Schoharie County, New York.[3] Sylvester’s biography in the History of Porter County tells us that John and Eva Mereness

were natives of New York, and emigrated to Indiana when their daughter Mary was six years old, becoming farmers in this county. The other children in the family were Abram, Harrison, Peter, Catherine, Ann and Margaret. Their schooling was obtained in New York and Indiana, and some attended the school at Blachley’s Corners and others at the Deep River school.[4]

Sylvester didn’t have to look far to find Mary. On the 1870 census, we find Sylvester and Mary, then nineteen and living with her parents, on the same page, just a few entries away from each other.[5]

Mereness John 1870 census Lake Co INDetail from 1870 Census, Ross Township, Porter County, Indiana. (Click on image to enlarge)

In fact, they were neighbors. An 1891 plat map shows land that formerly belonged to John Mereness abutting against Sylvester land. The two families must have known each other for quite some time, probably well before Harriet Casbon died in 1874.

Upon their marriage, Mary instantly became “mother” to four children: Cora Ann, age sixteen; Lawrence, twelve; Thomas Sylvester, seven; and Charles Parkfield, five. Sylvester’s youngest son, George, had presumably already moved to Iowa with Sylvester’s sister, Emma, and her husband, Robert Newell Rigg. Henrietta Chester, the daughter of Sylvester’s deceased wife, was probably already married by that time.[6] Although having a wife and mother in the household must have greatly eased the burden on Sylvester, it could easily have been a difficult adjustment for the children. However, the History of Porter County reassures us that “Mrs. Casbon became a loyal mother to her husband’s children, and to her they owe much of the training which helped them attain worthy positions in life.”[7]

Although only 27 when she married, Mary never had children of her own. Given what had happened to Adaline and Harriet, perhaps this was a good thing.

This photograph, from about 1889, shows Sylvester, then about 52 years old, and Mary, about 39.

Sylvester & Mary Mereness Casbon 1889
This is the earliest photograph I have of either Sylvester or Mary. Is that a bustle?
(They were still in fashion, though declining in size by then.) (Photo courtesy of Ilaine Church)

This photo, taken about 1905, shows Sylvester and Mary with their children and grandchildren.

Sylvester C family portrait abt 1905 Sylvester Casbon and extended family, about 1905, Valparaiso, Indiana.
(Jon Casbon private collection; click on image to enlarge)

Mary and Sylvester moved to Valparaiso when Sylvester retired from farming in 1892.[8] They certainly had a long (50 year), and hopefully happy, marriage, which ended with Sylvester’s death in December, 1927.[9] Mary survived him by a little more than four years, passing way on February 28, 1932, age 81.[10]

Mary Mereness Casbon death Vidette Messenger 1932
Mary’s obituary from the Valparaiso Vidette Messenger.[11] . (Click on image to enlarge)

Mary is the only one of Sylvester’s wives to have been buried alongside him, in Graceland Cemetery, Valparaiso.[12]

[1] Lake County, Indiana, “Marriage Record D, 5-10-1877 to 8-19-1885,” p. 31 (stamped), 2d entry, Sylvester Casbon and Mary Mereness, 13 Dec 1877; image, “Indiana Marriages, 1811-2007,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 15 April 2018), Lake > 1877-1885 Volume D4 > image 54 of 329; citing FHL microfilm 2,414,589, item 1 (image 61 of 919).
[2] 1850 U.S. Census, Schoharie County, New York, population schedule, Sharon Town, n.p., dwelling 392, family 393, Mary Mereness in the household of John J. Mereness; imaged as “1850 United States Federal Census,” Ancestry ( : accessed 11 April 2018), New York >Schoharie >Sharon, image 54 of 63; citing NARA microfilm publication M432, roll 596, p. 376B.
[3] 1855 census of New York State, Schoharie County, Sharon district, , n.p., dwelling 427, family 454, John I. Mereness; imaged as “New York, State Census, 1855,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 15 April 2018) >Schoharie >Sharon >All, image 31 of 50; citing FHL microfilm  868,878.
[4] History of Porter County Indiana: A Narrative Account of its Historical Progress, its People and its Principal Interests, vol. 2 (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1912), p. 484; online image, Hathi Trust Digital Library (;view=1up;seq=140;size=150 : accessed 15 April 2018).
[5] 1870 U.S. Census, Lake County, Indiana, population schedule, p. 431 (stamped), dwelling 68, family 69, John Marinus; imaged as “United States Census, 1870,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 11 April 2018), Indiana > LaGrange > Ross > image 11 of 44; citing NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 333.
[6] Personal communication, Jon Casbon with Linda Pearson, 13 September 2016.
[7] History of Porter County Indiana, p. 484.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Indiana, State Board of Health, Certificate of Death, no. 36661 (stamped), Valparaiso, Porter County, Sylvester Casbon, 10 Dec 1927; imaged as “Indiana, Death Certificates, 1899-2011,” Ancestry ( : accessed 15 April 2018), Certificate >1927-1927 >15, image 2675 of 4752; citing Indiana Archives and Records Administration; Indianapolis, Death Certificates, 1926–1927, roll 15.
[10] Indiana, State Board of Health, Certificate of Death, no. 5742, Valparaiso, Mary Casbon, 28 Feb 1932; “Indiana, Death Certificates, 1899-2011,” Ancestry ( : accessed 15 April 2018), Certificate >1932 >02, image 2753 of 3010; citing Indiana Archives and Records Administration; Death Certificates, 1932, roll 2.
[11] “Death Claims Mary Casbon.” The (Valparaiso, Indiana) Vidette Messenger, 29 Feb 1932, p. 3, col. 8; online image, Newspaper Archive (accessed through participating libraries: 16 Jun 2016).
[12] Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed 15 April 2018), memorial for Mary Casbon (15 Apr 1851–23 Feb 1932), Memorial ID 116217328, created by “Kathy”; citing Graceland Memorial Park, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana.

Emeline Harriet (Perry) Casbon (~1840–74)

When Mary Adaline (Aylesworth) Casbon died in March 1868, she left behind her husband, Sylvester V. Casbon, 30 years old, and two children: Cora Ann, seven, and Lawrence Leslie, almost three. He would have needed help caring for the children and maintaining the household. I’m sure family and friends would have stepped in to help, but what he really needed was a wife. It was another year and a half before he found one. Her name was Emeline “Harriet” Perry. They were wedded on October 11, 1869 in Porter County, Indiana.[1]

marriage record 1869 Detail from Porter County marriage records, 1869. (Click on image to enlarge)

As was the case with Adaline, there are very few records of Harriet’s life, so her story must be told from those few records and whatever else can be inferred from the lives of those around her.

The exact year of Harriet’s birth cannot be determined because of conflicting information in the available records. The earliest record I know of is the 1850 U.S. Census of Center Township, Porter County, Indiana.[2]

Perry Ezekial 1850 census Center Porter IN
Detail of 1850 U.S. Census, Porter County, Indiana. (Click on image to enlarge)

This census shows Harriet, age 10, with the rest of her family. If the age is correct, Harriet’s birth date would be between late October 1839 and early October 1840. However, the 1860 and 1870 censuses give her age as 19 and 27, respectively. Her grave marker lists her year of birth as 1842. Since the 1850 census was recorded closer to her actual birth date than the other records, I’ll go with “about 1840” for her birth year. All the censuses agree that she was born in Canada.

This census is also the best record we have showing Harriet’s immediate family, so it’s worth spending a little more time with it. We can see that her father’s name was Ezekial Perry, 51 years old and born in New York. Her mother’s name was Olive (probably Briggs), 49 years old. Harriet’s siblings, in birth order, were Alfred B (27), Allen (24), Electa (14), (Mary) Adaline (11), James (7), and Dwight (2). There is evidence on an Ancestry family tree that Ezekial had been previously married, and that Alfred and Allen were products of that marriage.[3]

Ezekial Perry, Harriet’s father, was probably born in Cayuga County, New York, in 1799.[4] This is supported by a handwritten family tree.[5] We can see from the 1850 census, that Ezekial moved his family to Canada sometime between about 1836 and 1839 (Electa’s and Adaline’s birth years, respectively). Then he moved back to New York sometime between 1840 and 1843 (James’ birth year). Then he moved to Indiana sometime before 1848 (Dwight’s birth year).

Given the obvious fact that Ezekial and his family moved around a lot, it would be nice to know how and why he ended up in Porter County. I don’t know the answer, other than saying that moves like this usually came down to finances, friends, or family. The 1850 census gives us a clue. In it is an entry for Ambrose Perry, age 29, born in New York and living in Center Township with his wife and daughter.[6] Ambrose was apparently Ezekial’s son from his earlier marriage.[7] Ambrose’s three-year-old daughter was born in Missouri, so he must not have arrived in Porter County any earlier than 1847. It’s possible that Ambrose arrived first and Ezekial followed; or vice-versa. It’s also possible that they arrived together. There were a number of families with origins in New York living in Porter County at that time, so it’s also possible that the Perrys were acquainted with one or more of these families.

The next record we have of Harriet is in 1856, when she was married to Henry Chester, son of a Lake County, Indiana farmer.[8] Depending on which birth year is correct, Harriet would have been somewhere between fourteen and sixteen years old at the time. It turns out that Harriet’s older half-brother, Allen, married a woman named Roxanna Chester about a month and a half after Harriet’s marriage to Henry.[9] Roxanna was almost certainly Henry’s younger sister, who appears in the 1850 census as “Joxanna”[10] Apparently the two families were acquainted!

Henry and Harriet Chester appear in the 1860 census with two daughters, Mary and Olive, living in Ross Township, Lake County, just across the county line from Porter County.[11] We don’t know exactly what happened, but Harriet and Henry were divorced, sometime before 1866, when Henry remarried.[12] I first learned of the divorce in an interesting blog post a couple of years ago.

The next recorded event in Harriet’s life is her marriage to Sylvester Casbon in 1869. With the marriage she became the stepmother to Sylvester’s two children: Cora Ann, now approaching eight years old; and Lawrence Leslie, age four. Harriet also brought a daughter, Henrietta, to the marriage, as seen in the 1870 census.[13]

Sylvester Casbon 1870 census(1) Detail from 1870 U.S. Census, Ross Township, Lake County, Indiana. (Click on image to enlarge)

We can see in this census that Sylvester and Harriet were now living in Lake County, having moved there from Porter County sometime in the late 1860s. We can also see a small detail in column 17: Harriet “cannot write.”

In fairly short order, Harriet bore Sylvester three sons: Thomas Sylvester, born 1870; Charles Parkfield, 1872, and George Washington Casbon, 1874.[14] With the latter birth, what should have been a happy occasion soon turned to tragedy. Harried died on November 14, 1874, not quite two months after George’s birth.[15] Records do not tell us the cause of her death. Sylvester was once again a widower with five children of his own, ranging in age from thirteen to two months old, and possibly Harriet’s daughter Henrietta as well. The children had no mother. This must have been one of the hardest aspects of life in those times.

grave marker
Harriet’s grave marker, Mosier Cemetery, Porter County, Indiana (photo taken by Jon Casbon, 2017). This appears to be a more recent stone, apparently erected by one or more of her sons. (Click on image to enlarge)

As was true of Adaline (Aylesworth) Casbon, Harriet’s legacy continues through her descendants. I don’t have an accurate accounting of her descendants, but I know there are many. Notably, Harriet is the matriarch of the Iowa Casbons through her son George, who was raised by Sylvester’s sister, Emma, and her husband, Robert Newell Rigg.[16]

Harriet’s memory is tied to Iowa in more ways than her Casbon descendants. Thanks to Claudia Vokoun for pointing out to me that several members of the Perry family moved to Black Hawk County, Iowa, right next to Tama County, where George was raised and eventually settled. Harriet’s half-brother, Alfred B Perry, moved to that area in about 1857.[17] He was followed by his brothers Ambrose and Allen sometime before 1870.[18] This seems like more than just a coincidence to me. Whether or not George Casbon’s adoptive parents knew the Perry’s is unknown, but there was probably some common factor that drew these Porter County families to the same part of Iowa.

[1] “Indiana Marriages, 1811-2007,” database with images, FamilySearch (  : accessed 21 January 2016) > Porter > 1863-1871 Volume 3 > image 295 of 352, Syvester Casborn and Emiline H Perry, 21 Oct 1869; citing Porter County Clerk; FHL microfilm 1,686,156.
[2] 1850 U.S. Census, Porter County, Indiana, Center Township, p. 107 (stamped), dwelling 139, family 139, Ezekial Perry; imaged as “United States Census, 1850,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 10 April 2018) > Indiana > Porter > Centre > image 21 of 26; citing NARA microfilm publication M432, roll 165.
[3] “Public Member Trees,” database, Ancestry ( : accessed 10 Apr 2018), “Curtis Vorthmann” family tree by “Cheri_Vorthmann,” profile for Ezekial Perry (1799–1880).
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] 1850 U.S. Census, Porter County, Indiana, population schedule, Center Township, p. 108 (stamped), dwelling 162, family 162, Ambrose Perry; imaged as “United States Census, 1850,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 10 April 2018) > Indiana > Porter > Centre > image 23 of 26; citing NARA microfilm publication M432, roll 165.
[7] Public Member Trees, Ancestry; “Curtis Vorthmann” family tree, profile for Ezekial Perry (1799–1880).
[8] “Indiana Marriages, 1811-2007,” database with images, FamilySearch ( accessed 10 April 2018), Porter County, p. 240, record 2, Henry Chester and Harriet Perry, 3 Jul 1856; citing Porter County Clerk.
[9] County Clerk, Lake, Indiana, “Marriage Record 1849 B (1849–1866),” p. 188 (penned), 2d entry, Allen Perry and Roxanna Chester, 5 Mar 1866; imaged as “Indiana Marriages, 1811-2007,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 10 April 2018) >Lake > 1849-1866 Volume B1849 > image 122 of 311.
[10] 1850 U.S. Census, Lake County, Indiana, population schedule, Ross Township, p. 141 (stamped), dwelling 27, family 27; Charles Chester; imaged as “United States Census, 1850,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 10 April 2018) >Indiana > Lake > Ross > image 4 of 18; citing NARA microfilm publication M432, roll 157.
[11] 1860 U.S. Census, Lake County, Indiana, population schedule, Ross Township, p. 20 (penned), dwelling 138, family 138, Henry Chester; imaged as “United States Census, 1860,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 10 April 2018) >Indiana > Lake > Ross Township > image 20 of 38; citing NARA microfilm publication M653, Roll 274.
[12] County Clerk, Lake, Indiana, “Marriage Record 1849 B (1849–1866),” p. 563 (penned), 2d entry, Henry Chester and Harriet L. Hanks, 5 Mar 1866; browsable images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 10 April 2018), image 437 of 827; citing Family History Library microfilm  2,413,488, item 2.
[13] 1870 U.S. Census, Lake County, Indiana, population schedule, Ross Township, p. 431 (stamped), dwelling 70, family 71, Casbon Sylvester; imaged as “United States Census, 1870,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 10 April 2018) >Indiana > LaGrange > Ross > image 11 of 44; citing NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 333.
[14] Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed 10 April 2018), memorial page for Thomas S Casbon (1870–1955), memorial ID 116217116, created by “Kathy”; citing Graceland Memorial Park, Valparaiso, Porter, Indiana. “United States, World War One (WWI) Draft Registration Cards,1917-1918,” images and transcriptions, findmypast ( : accessed 9 November 2017), card for Charles Parkfield Casbon, serial no. 537, local draft board, Valparaiso, Porter, Indiana; citing National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), series M1509. Registration card for George Washington Casbon, Tama County, Iowa, 1918; imaged as “United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 10 April 2018) > Iowa > Tama County; A-Z > image 657 of 5002; citing NARA microfilm publication M1509.
[15] Weston A Goodspeed, Charles Blanchard, Counties of Porter and Lake, Indiana: Historical and Biographical, Illustrated (Chicago: F.A. Battey & Co., 1882), p. 707; online image, Internet Archive ( : accessed 10 April 2018).
[16] Jon Casbon, “Introducing the Iowa Casbons! Part 1. 5 Oct 2-17, Our Casbon Journey ( : accessed 10 April 2018).
[17] 1860 U.S. Census, Black Hawk County, Iowa, population schedule, Lester Township. p. 136 (penned), dwelling 82, family 79, Alfred B. Perry; imaged as “United States Census, 1860,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 10 April 2018) < Iowa > Black Hawk > Lester Township > image 11 of 14; citing NARA microfilm publication M653, Roll 312.
[18] 1870 U.S. Census, Black Hawk County, Iowa, population schedule, Lester Township, p. 451 (stamped), dwelling 108, family 107, Perry Ambrose; imaged as “United States Census, 1870,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 10 April 2018) >Iowa > Black Hawk > lester > image 15 of 22; citing NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 377. 1870 U.S. Census, Black Hawk County, Iowa; FamilySearch ( : accessed 10 April 2018) >Iowa > Black Hawk > lester > image 19 of 22.