Monday, April 10, 2017

My other maternal great-great-grandfathers

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, two of my maternal great-great-grandfathers were an odd couple. Although both fought in the Union during the Civil War, one ended up as a captain of early 20th Century industry, becoming a millionaire through liquor distilling and distribution and the other was a ne'er-do-well alcoholic who left his family destitute except for his Civil War pension.

But that still leaves two other great-great-grandfathers on my maternal side, and four more on the paternal side. So let's have a look.

My mother's father's mother's father was Alexander Wolfington and he was also a captain of industry. My cousin dug up a whole bunch of info about the company he founded, which started out as a carriage company and then became a bus company. Apparently he was a Canadian(!) from Nova Scotia, which explains why he didn't fight in the Civil War. Like my maternal grandfather's other grandfather, he started from virtually nothing and worked his way up
Alexander J. Wolfington, the son of a sea captain, was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1850. Following a single trans-Atlantic journey with his seafaring father, he settled upon a land-based career as a blacksmith, and became apprenticed to a local master of the centuries-old art. Following the War Between the States, he traveled south to New York City, where he accepted a job at Brewster & Company.

He worked as a journeyman blacksmith for the New York City coachbuilder for three years, then followed his newly-betrothed sister to Philadelphia, just before the start of that city’s 1876 Centennial. He had saved enough money to purchase a small building at the corner of North Twentieth and Filbert Streets (now John F. Kennedy Blvd). Due to a bit of luck, his blacksmith shop was located right next to the new Pennsylvania railroad spur and he turned around and sold it for a $500 profit, a substantial amount for the time.
Perhaps not surprisingly, my grandfather, the grandson of an auto company owner and a liquor distributor/distiller started his working life as a truck driver for breweries. He became a Teamster leader but in his forties quit to start his own business. But unfortunately he got lung cancer and died at age 47, leaving my grandmother with a  pile of debt which she eventually discharged through her secretarial work. Perhaps if he had had any sons, the son would have been another go-getter, but my mother is one of seven daughters, and not a one of them seems to have had any serious career ambitions. Career ambitions were not so unheard of when they were young - Gloria Steinem is two years older than my mother. But they all seem to have been content to be wives and mothers, except of course for the nun.

My brother Brian, the right-winger, is a truck driver so I guess that counts as continuing a family tradition.

Of the fourth maternal great-great-grandfather, very little is known except that James Lawrence Wert Smith worked for the Reading Railroad. So he was as working class as my grandmother's other grandfather, although hopefully not also the victim of alcoholism. And whatever else you can say about my grandmother's family, they were in Philadelphia for a long time. My cousin traced the Smith side back as far as the 1700s. They probably go back to the days of Benjamin Franklin at the very least.

Tomorrow I will look at my paternal great-great-grandfathers.