Poppa & Sade: William Jesse Keel & Sarah Annis Peal

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Sarah & Bill Keel, 1942, on their 50th wedding anniversary

My dad grew up living with his mother’s parents in rural Martin County, North Carolina. He called them Poppa and Sade.

Poppa was William Jesse “Bill” Keel, born 22 August 1872 in Bear Grass, Martin County, to James L. Keel and Elizabeth (Betsy) Bowen, the second of their ten children. Bill was raised and worked on his father’s farm with his brothers and had a fifth grade education.  He was a strong man who loved to hunt and fish as well as farm, and had a big laugh.

Sade was Sarah Annis Peal, born 7 September 1874 in Cross Roads Township, a small community next to Bear Grass. She was the second of seven daughters born to William Ashley Peal and Jane Elizabeth Stalls and was named for her paternal grandmother, Annis Gurganus.  Sarah was a farmer’s daughter who was well educated for the time, going to high school for three years. She was a tiny woman with fine bones and a sweet smile.

Sarah Peal and Bill Keel married on 6 January 1892 in Cross Roads, probably at her home; she was 19 and he was 21. Their families knew each other; both of their fathers were general farmers in the county and both attended the Bear Grass Primitive Baptist Church, which Sarah and Bill attended for many years after their marriage.

They had eleven children but only four survived infancy: Mary Magdalene (Maglene), Susie Lanier, Edgar Durand, and Rachel Aldine. The first ten babies were born between 1895 (James Willie) and 1912 (Sarah Naomi). Daughter Rachel, born in 1921, was a “bonus” baby and only seven years older than my father, who was her nephew. The babies who didn’t survive were buried in a private family plot behind the “old home place” farm. Their graves now are covered by leaves and their names mostly forgotten. But Sarah recorded them in the family Bible so we have them:

Keel-Family-Record-From-Bib

When their daughter Susie Lanier Keel (my grandmother) married in July 1927, what she remembered most about her wedding was that her parents didn’t attend. Since she was probably pregnant at the time, it is possible that they disapproved of either the marriage or her husband. The newly-wed Myers were living on the Keel farm seven months later when their first child (my father) was born. Both generations lived together in the same house for the next twenty five years, first with Bill Keel as head of household and later, Bill Myers as head with his in-laws in the home. Poppa Keel farmed and did road construction work until they moved to Williamston in 1925.

SCAN0022My dad remembered that his grandmother did almost all the cooking for the combined household while his mother worked as a seamstress to bring in extra money. Poppa Bill Keel took Daddy fishing and also hunted to provide more food for the family; their farm cousins kept them well supplied with produce but protein was expensive. Bill Keel was the man in charge of barbeque whenever a hog was butchered; those were always social occasions with many family and friends to share the food and the occasion. They were poor and lived simply.

Sarah Keel died at home in Williamston on 28 June 1948. She was 73 years old. Her beloved husband Bill Keel died almost exactly four years later on 26 June 1952. He was seventy nine years old and had been in ill health for five years. They are buried together in Williamston’s Woodlawn Cemetery next to their daughter Susie Keel Myers.

The Flanders’ House

Both my mother and grandfather grew up at 916 Lake Street in the Forest Hill section of Newark, New Jersey. My great-grandparents bought the new three-story 5-bedroom home in 1907.  It was actually one and one-half lots with 5,001 square feet: #916 has the house and #918 expands the yard and has a carriage house, later garage, at the back. It is the only house on the block with this extra room.

4-916 Lake St.

One entered the home through a vestibule off the small front porch into an entrance hall that opened to the third floor. A winding open staircase on the right side went upstairs to the bedrooms. The front hall held an upright piano and was the perfect spot for the tall family Christmas tree. Off the front hall were the living room, dining room, and large kitchen with bulter’s pantry. The best part was the “secret” narrow closed stairway off the kitchen that led to the upstairs rooms to be used by servants going between floors.  I’m not sure that the family actually had any servants, but that was the original purpose. Certainly children used it often.

The living room with the bay window was in the front of the house with the dining room behind it adjoining the butler’s pantry. Room functions were flipped at some point, but there were different stories about when and why that happened: either to preserve heat during the Depression by keeping the most-used living room as an interior room, or to eliminate the possibility of light escaping the World War II blackout curtains. Either story is plausible. Whatever the reason, the spaces remained in that configuration for many years.

Bedrooms upstairs were small but adequate. There were four bedrooms on the second floor with two unattached bathrooms, and one bedroom on the third floor in the attic space.  During the Depression, the family had a boarder in residence who lived in the attic room.  There was also a large unfinished basement with windows at ground level.

This was always a multi-generational home. William John Flanders bought it in 1907 and moved in with his wife Charlotte, mother-in-law Alice McCormick, sons Lester and William, and brother-in-law Charles McCormick. Lester and Charles had moved out by the time their father died in 1925, but in 1927, his son William brought his new bride Marion Cooke into the home already occupied by his mother and grandmother. Alice died shortly after, but Charlotte outlived her daughter-in-law by seven years, and was there to see her granddaughters grow up.

Forest Hill was and still is a quiet residential suburb of Newark, bounded on one side by beautifully landscaped Branch Brook Park just a few blocks away from the family home. Also nearby was St. Mark’s Episcopal Church where the family worshipped. William Charles Flanders was confirmed there in 1914 and his daughters were baptized, confirmed, and married from the church. Four of his five grandchildren were also baptized at St. Marks, by the same minister who baptized and married their parents. They wore their grandfather’s christening gown.

By 1970, the children were grown, his wife and mother were gone, and Bill Flanders was alone in a house far too big for him to maintain. He sold it with much of the contents and moved to an apartment and later, to a retirement community. The house remains in pictures and memory of the few still alive to remember when it was the Flanders’ house.

Great-grandfather William John Flanders

My great-grandfather William John Flanders (aka W.J. or Bill) was an Englishman who emigrated to the United States in his twenties and became a U.S. citizen five years before his death. He was short (5’6″ tall) and had a bit of a paunch, topped by a round face sporting glasses and a moustache. He loved cigars. He married twice and fathered two children, both sons. This farmer’s son lived in New York City and the New Jersey suburbs and was a gentlemen’s clothing salesman.

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William John Flanders was born on 25 March 1865 in the small market town of Mildenhall in Suffolk, England, later the home of an RAF airforce base. He was the second of five survivng children born to William Flanders and Elizabeth Deeks Webb. His father was a farmer and successful breeder of hackney horses. The family lived within a 25 mile radius in the English Fen Country for almost 300 years.

In the 1881 English census, we find William and his brothers Horace and Frank as scholars at a boarding school in Kings’ Lynn, Norfolk, England, 35 miles from their home.  William, also known “Willie” to his brothers, came to New York City in 1885 or 1886 – we don’t know why or exactly when, but we do know that his older brother inherited his father’s land and horse breeding operation. As a second son, Bill would have known he would not inherit; the decision to try new things in a new place is not surprising. His younger brother Frank also moved to New York City in 1888.

Bill Flanders worked as a clerk in Manhattan and on 7 October 1889, he married Bessie Jane Read of Sandwich, England, who was living in New York. His brother Frank witnessed the marriage. Bill and Bessie lived in Manhattan for nine years; their only child, Lester Maris Flanders, was born on 1 January 1891. The family went back to England in September 1892, making the outbound and return sailings on the new ship Mohawk, built by the Harland & Wolff, the firm that also built the Titanic.

MoHawk Passenger list 1892

Bessie and Lester traveled to London again without William in July 1894, also on the Mohawk. Four years later, on 3 October 1898, Bessie died at their home on the Upper West Side in Manhattan. She was 32 years old. Her body was taken to England, where she was buried.

After his wife’s death, Bill and his seven year old son Lester rented rooms from the recently widowed Alice McCormick and her daughter Charlotte on Hunts Point Road in the Bronx.  A year later, he married the landlady’s daughter in a ceremony held at the bride’s home on 7 December 1899.  He was 13 years older than his bride, who was 13 years older than her step-son. Their only child, William Charles Flanders, was born ten months later on 5 October 1900 in Belleville, New Jersey.

Flanders,-Wm-John-&-CharlotThe Flanders lived in Newark and William worked across the river in New York City.  In 1907 they bought a new home in the quiet residential area of Forest Hill, two blocks from the train station to the city. The household was multi-generational and included William and Charlotte, mother-in-law Alice McCormick, his son Lester, their son William, and Charlotte’s brother, Charles McCormick.  Good thing there were five bedrooms!  They probably saw a lot of Charlotte’s Heginbotham cousins living in neighboring Belleville, some as close as two blocks away. The Flanders were members of nearby St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Forest Hill.

Bill took the train to work from Forest Hill to New York City and later, to points west of New York, but in 1918 they also bought a used Oldsmobile for $665. We know that the family rented a “bungalow” in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, during the summer of 1920, the same year that Bill Flanders became a naturalized United States citizen. Bill passed his love of the Jersey shore to his son, who bought houses in Manasquan in 1934.

William John Flanders never returned to England after his trip in 1892. He died on 29 April 1925 at his home in Newark after suffering for 18 months with bladder and rectal cancer. He is buried in East Ridgelawn Cemetery in Passaic, New Jersey, next to his second wife, Charlotte, who survived him by over forty years and never remarried.

Bill Flanders and his son, also Bill Flanders, looked eerily alike:

Great-Grandmother Charlotte McCormick

Flanders,-Wm-John-&-CharlotMy mother’s paternal grandmother was Charlotte Ann McCormick, aka Daisy, aka Goggy, a name she got when her granddaughter couldn’t pronounce Grandma. She was born in Manhattan on 6 August 1878 but shaved a year off of that at some point, telling people it was 1879 as eventually appeared on her death certificate. Charlotte was the daughter of Irish immigrants Peter McCormick and Alice Heginbotham, the eldest of two surviving children. Their first child died at birth in 1876. Her younger brother Charles Thomas McCormick was born November 1881. Given the similarity of their names, they were probably named for someone specific but who is a mystery; their grandfathers were Thomas and Patrick.

Charlotte and her brother Charlie were raised in different religious traditions. Our undocumented family legend is that Peter (Roman Catholic) and Alice (Protestant) agreed to raise sons in his faith and daughters in hers. True or not, they had one of each and their children were so raised. I am a descendant of the Protestant daughter; my godfather was the grandson of the Catholic son.  Charlotte was confirmed on Good Friday 1892 in St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Harlem, three blocks from their home.

The McCormicks lived on the Upper East Side of Manhattan when Charlotte was born, later moving up to Harlem and still later, to Hunts Point Road in the Bronx. Peter was a stone mason and builder and their family was well enough off to afford having a servant. Alice’s father lived nearby. Charlotte completed eighth grade and received a diploma from the Harlem Young Women’s Christian Association in June 1897, certifying her proficiency in stenography and typewriting. As far as we know, she was never employed to use those skills and it was a bit of a surprise to the family to discover that she ever had them.

CharlotteFlandersYWCA1897

Charlotte’s father Peter died in December 1898 at their home in the Bronx. Following his death, her mother Alice took in boarders, including the recently widowed William John Flanders and his 8 year old son Lester. William married the landlady’s daughter one year later on 7 December 1899. He called her Daisy.  Charlotte was 13 years younger than her husband and 13 years older than her step-son.

Wm John & Charlotte Marriage Certificate 1899

The new family lived with Alice in the Bronx in the 1900 census but by 1905 had moved across the Hudson River to Newark, New Jersey. Their son William Charles Flanders (my grandfather) was born in October 1900 in Belleville, where most of Alice’s Heginbotham relatives lived.  In 1908 the family moved the short distance to 916 Lake Street in the quiet Forest Hill residential suburb, near the cousins and only blocks from the train which William took for his work as a gentlemen’s wear salesman. Charlotte lived in this house until her death in 1967.

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Charlotte Flanders, Ocean Grove, NJ, Summer of 1920

Charlotte’s household was multi-generational, as were most households of the time. The 1910 census shows that her new 5-bedroom house held Charlotte, her husband and their son, her step-son Lester, her mother Alice, and her brother Charlie. These were the days before Social Security, when families formed the safety net. The women in my family didn’t work and had no real marketable skills, but they could care for a home and help raise children. And in this generation, the women outlived their husbands by many years.

Although her husband traveled for business, Charlotte wasn’t lonely with a number of cousins within a short walk from her home, including her cousin Edith Karr just two blocks away.  The family regularly attended St. Mark’s Episcopal Church near their home. Her husband William Flanders, who was born in England, became a United States citizen in January 1920. He died of cancer on 29 April 1925, leaving 47 year old Charlotte a widow living with her son – and still her mother, who passed away two years later.

Flanders Daisy & Bill c1966
Charlotte Flanders & son William Flanders, Manasquan, NJ – c1965

Charlotte’s son married in March 1927, bringing his bride Marion Cooke home to live with his mother in the home where he grew up. Charlotte controlled the kitchen and cooked all the meals until World War II, when she couldn’t figure out rationing. Her granddaughters grew up with their grandmother in residence, in the same way her son grew up with his grandmother there.  She outlived her daughter-in-law, who died in 1960.

Goggy was in her 80’s when I was growing up and she was always old. She wore plaid cotton housedresses with pearls, earrings, and either a cameo or diamond bar pin, all of which were gifts from her late husband.  Her hair was soft white and curled, and she never seemed to do much, but then, at that age she didn’t have to.  She enjoyed her drinks on Friday evening, and every evening for that matter, and was cared for tenderly by her son. She fell on her birthday in 1967 and died shortly later from complications of a broken hip. She is buried at East Ridgelawn Cemetery in Passaic, New Jersey, with her husband and mother.