March is Women’s History Month. The writing theme for March is “Females” and for this ninth week it is “Female.” I have so many women in my family tree I could write about. And later in the month, I for sure want to include stories of Irish women in my tree in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. But I decided this week to write about my 3rd great-grandmother Cordelia Merchant Cole. Her story is often a sad one, but I have always wanted to make sure her story was told, and she was not forgotten by her descendants and other kin.
My third great-grandmother Cordelia Merchant was born about 1810 in Otsego County, New York. She was the daughter of Phineas Merchant and Submit “Mitty” French. Her father Phineas Merchant was the son of Ezra Merchant and Catherine Northrup. His lines go back well into Colonial America in Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Side note: I am descended from two Northup sisters, Catherine Northrup Merchant on this maternal line I am discussing, and her sister Mary Northup who married Pvt. David Canfield. My connection to Mary Northup and Pvt. David Canfield is also on my maternal side, but it’s a different line that is the ancestors of my maternal great-grandmother Anna “Cora” Prindle Cole.
Her mother Submit “Mitty” French was the daughter of Samson French and Lusannah “Lucy” Root. The French and Root (and related) lines are well documented and also go back deep into Colonial America in Massachusetts.
Cordelia Merchant had eight siblings: older maternal half-brother William Festus Morgan, Eliza Ann Merchant Cole, Sampson Merchant, Lucy Merchant Temple, Theodore George Merchant, Clarissa Merchant Cole, and two brothers whose names are lost to time.
Her younger sister Clarissa would play a large role in affecting her life path. We’ll get to that in a bit.
Cordelia grew up in New York, in Worcester in Otsego County, and in Chenango in Broome County. The family made at least one trip back to Lowell, Middlesex, Massachusetts, where her brother Sampson was born.
When she was ten years old, her family is found in the 1820 US Census for Worcester, Otsego, New York. She with her parents came to live in Broome County, New York by 1825 and her parents are found the 1830 US Census living in Chenango, Broome, New York. Living fifteen miles away in Broome County over in Colesville was the family of Nathaniel Cole, Jr. Nathaniel Cole, Jr. is found living there with his second wife Catherines Bries and their children, as well as the children from his first marriage to Laura A. Fuller. Included in the children from his first marriage was a Lewis F. Cole.
The Cole family is well known in Broome County history, Nathaniel’s father Nathaniel Cole, Sr. has a park named after him there. There is much known about the Cole family.
Lewis F. Cole was born March 1807 in Hoosick, Rensselaer, New York, the son of Nathaniel Cole, Jr. and Laura A. Fuller. Lewis’ middle name may have been Fuller, after his mother’s maiden name. Nathaniel Cole, Jr. was the son of Nathaniel Cole, Sr. and Abigail Oviatt. The Cole and Oviatt families descend from families of Colonial America in Massachusetts, including several Mayflower Pilgrims.
Laura A. Fuller was the daughter of Matthew Fuller and Martha Arnold. There is somewhat of a brick wall when going back further than this couple. There are some strong DNA indications as to what Fuller and Arnold families they belonged to, but their parentages are not clear as of now. What is known is that they were both of Bennington County, Vermont and spent time in Hoosick, Rensselaer, New York and Oxford, Chenango, New York and ended up by 1820 in Broome County, New York.
Lewis F. Cole’s mother Laura A. Fuller died in 1810 sometime after the birth of her last child Asa Walker Cole. Lewis was only three years old when his mother died. His father remarried by 1815 to Catherine Bries. We know that Lewis’ father left Hoosick sometime after his first wife’s death and we know he was back in Broome County, New York, living near his father, by 1815.
How Cordelia Merchant and Lewis F. Cole met is lost to time. But the Cole family had kin living not only in Colesville, but in Windsor, Chenango, and other towns in Broome County, New York. I have been unable to find their marriage record, but they married prior to 1830 in Broome County. They were married before the 1830 census where her husband is found as Lewis Cole in Chenango, Broome, New York – 1 male aged 20-29 (Lewis) and 1 female aged 20-29 (Cordelia).
Lewis F. Cole and Cordelia Merchant had three children:
1. Ira G. Cole born 9 Dec 1831 in Chenango, Broome, New York, and died 2 Feb 1900 in Holley, Orleans, New York. He married first to Violetta Palmer and married second to Ella A. Day.
2. Clarissa Marie Cole born 27 Jan 1832 in Chenango, Broome, New York, and died 6 May 1894 in Clarendon, Orleans, New York. She married Abraham C. Frederick.
3. Loren Richard Cole born 9 Dec 1836 in Chenango, Broome, New York, and died 3 Feb 1908 in Wilmington, De Kalb, Indiana. He married Nancy M. Losure (the daughter of first cousins Joseph Losure and Sarah Lozier). They are my direct ancestors. You may learn more about the family of Nancy M. Losure by going to my blog post: My Lozier/Losure/Loser/Loeser Ancestors from Oberriexingen, Germany (and related lines).
Lewis F. Cole is found as L. F. Cole in the 1840 US Census for Chenango, Broome, New York – 2 males of 5 years of age and under 10 (Ira G. Cole and Loren Richard Cole). 1 male aged 30-40 (Lewis F. Cole). 1 female of 5 years of age and under 10 (Clarrisa Marie Cole), 1 female of 20 years of age and under 30 (Cordelia).
By 1839 Lewis Cole had begun an affair with Cordela’s younger sister Clarissa Merchant. The first child of Lewis Cole and Clarissa Merchant, a son named William Liberty Cole, was born out of wedlock on 18 Aug 1840 in Broome County, New York. So even though he is living with Cordelia and their three children when the 1840 census was taken, he has a child with his wife’s younger sister in August 1840 in the same year of this census.
Lewis Cole and his mistress and sister-in-law Clarissa Merchant had four children together out of wedlock between 1840 and 1849. All born in Broome County, New York.
After the birth of their child Sarah Ellen Cole in October 1849, Lewis Cole and Clarissa Merchant left Broome County, New York and headed to Indiana. To all accounts Lewis Cole could be uncaring and mean and sometimes feckless. As they were waiting to board the barge, Clarissa with young babe in arms could not find Lewis. She looked all over for him, carrying their infant daughter with their three other children in tow. She became frantic, crying, and could not locate him. He had been hiding from her the whole time, watching her look for him frantically. He finally appeared to her, laughing, thinking it was great fun to put her in such a state. (Paraphrasing of story told to my Cole cousin Joy, who is a descendant of Albert Jerome Cole, the youngest child of Lewis F. Cole and Clarissa Merchant).
He left his wife Cordela and three children in New York to fend for themselves when he ran off with Clarissa to Indiana.
Lewis Cole is found in the 1850 US Federal Census for Newville, De Kalb, Indiana, living with his mistress and sister-in-law Clarissa Merchant. Although she is listed as Clarissa Cole in the census, all their neighbors knew the truth. They had two more children one in 1850 and one in 1854.
Finally at the insistance of his Christian neighbors Lewis Cole divorces his wife Cordelia in November 1856 in De Kalb County, Indiana. The record is found in the courthouse records for De Kalb County:
Record from courthouse list of divorces: Order Book 32. November Term 1856, Page 140, 141. Cole, Lewis. Cordelia Cole. Divorce.
He marries his longtime mistress and sister-in-law Clarissa Merchant on 25 Nov 1856 in De Kalb County, Indiana. Their last two children were born after their marriage.
His father Nathaniel Cole, Jr. dies in 1844. Lewis had been conducting his scandalous affair, carrying on with his wife’s younger sister Clarissa and having two children out of wedlock with her before his father dies. The distance between Coleville and Chenango is about 15 miles. But the whole community would have known about his sordid behavior, and it would been a stain on the Cole and Merchant families and their relations. It is not a surprise that Lewis was not included in his father’s will.
How much he financially supported Cordelia and their children while he was still living in New York is unknown, or if he ever gave any financial support after he arrived in Indiana. There was some land that he owned in Chenango that he had lived on with Cordelia and children. Cordelia eventually sells this land to help support herself.
Cordelia named her daughter Clarissa after her sister, so I must assume there had been some closeness between them, even though Clarissa was six years younger. I cannot begin to know how Cordelia felt when she discovered that her husband and father of her children was carrying on an affair with and had impregnated her younger sister. I am sure that Cordelia suffered great humiliation and shame.
By 1850 Cordelia had left Broome County and is found living in Clarendon, Orleans County, New York aged 40 with her three children: Ira Cole aged 19, Clarissa M. Cole aged 17, and Loren R. Cole aged 15. Ira and Loren are supporting the family, Ira working as a printer and Loren as a laborer.
It is a considerable distance between where Cordelia had been living in Chenango, Broome, New York, and Clarendon, Orleans, New York, it is 158 miles! I must assume she left Broome County in the 1840’s due to her husband Lewis’ affair with her younger sister Clarissa and them having children together while Lewis and Cordelia were still married. If I was Cordelia, I would not have wanted to endure the daily embarrassment and shame, having neighbors and family knowing all about it.
By 1855 Cordelia is found in the New York State Census and is living with her son Ira Cole and his wife Violetta in Barre, Orleans, New York. Loren Cole, aged 20, is also living with them.
By 1860 Cordelia is no longer living with her son Ira. Why she did not continue to live with he and his wife is not known. But by then they had children and it’s often not a comfortable relationship between a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. Why she did not go to live with her married daughter Clarissa Cole Frederick and her husband and children is not known either. But family dynamics are complex and looking back now, I have no way of knowing what was going on in each of their lives.
Before 1858 Loren Richard Cole went to live in Indiana near his father. He was only four years old when his father had his first child with his Aunt Clarissa. When his father and Aunt left New York for Indiana, he was only twelve to thirteen years old at the time, and by then his mother had moved them to Orleans County, so how much contact he had with his father as a child is unknown, but I am guessing not very much. He was the only one of Lewis’ children with Cordelia that came to Indiana to live near him.
The fate of Cordelia Merchant Cole is a sad one. By 1865 she is living in the Orleans County Alms “Poor” House in Barre, Orleans County, New York. She is listed as a “pauper”. She dies in the poorhouse before 1874 and is buried in the Orleans County Alms “Poor” House Cemetery aka County Home Burial Ground. There are only 46 cemetery markers, and they only have a number on them. Most of the early records were destroyed by a fire in the mid 1870’s. Thinking of what my third great-grandmother Cordelia Merchant Cole endured has often brought a tear to my eye during my research.
“The names of those who rest here are long forgotten, but their existence deserves respect and reverence. They no longer can speak for themselves. Hence, we must note that buried here is someone’s ancestor, a person once loved by those who cherished them in the rocking cradle and held trembling hand in sickness and old age at death’s beckoning. These bodies now dust, are lived worth remembering because of the interdependent web of existence and the inherent worth and dignity of every person.”
– Orleans County Historian C.W. Lattin, June 20, 2011.
Above is a photo of Cordelia’s sister Clarissa. There are no photos of Cordelia, she died before photos were more commonplace, and her later life would not have lent itself to having photos taken. I have run into some descendants of Lewis F. Cole and Clarissa Merchant, often they are older in age, that do not want to accept the truth of the facts. Others tell me that Clarissa was a good Christian woman and loved by many when she died. That is probably true, the fact that as an old woman she was remembered as a much-loved Christian woman does not make the actions of her past when she was a younger woman untrue.
Side note: Asa Walker Cole (brother of Lewis F. Cole) married Eliza Ann Merchant who was the sister of Cordelia and Clarissa. So, two Cole brothers married three Merchant sisters.
Although Cordelia Merchant Cole is not a woman known in history in general or even in American history, but to me, she is an important woman in my family history. She was a woman of strength and courage who endured and persisted, but eventually lived in and suffered a death in a miserable place. But I am only here because this strong woman existed. She is my kin, my third great-grandmother, and an important woman in the ancestry of my family line.
There are no references to list, all information is based on my own research.
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