a Molesdale Family

William Edward MOLESDALE
William Edward Molesdale

Molesdale is an unusual name. A check of the 1881 Census CDs produces just eight individuals — my wife's great-grandfather, William Edward, his mother, Sarah, his wife Annie and their three children Fred, Clara and James. The other two in Great Bolton — Samuel and Betty - were William's uncle and aunt. A similar check of the 192 website today produces only four people — my wife's Aunt Frances, her son Peter, his wife Eileen and their son, Matthew, the only remaining Molesdale of the present generation.

But while it is rare to be a Molesdale descendent in the UK, there are others in America. This is because of the exploits of Isaiah Molesdale whose story is a compelling one. Having married twice in England and at the age of 37, he suddenly deserted his wife Sarah and their son William and boarded the Mary Tyson to sail to the USA, arriving on 15 September 1857, along with his son and daughter from his first marriage, Frederick and Elizabeth, to discover a life of respectability and bigamy!

All this was unknown to me when I began this research. We had a batch of 46 birth, marriage and death certificates as the result of a small inheritance left by a relative my wife did not know she had, namely John Bennett Molesdale. (Incidentally, apparently the first male victim of the mass murder, Dr Harold Shipman and there is access to this evidence on the web.) It led me to William and his father, Isaiah who seemed to vanish from the records. Sudden death was not unusual then and I supposed accident or disease had taken their toll. It was an idle internet search that uncovered the truth.

Frederick Molesdale
Frederick Molesdale

Typing the name Molesdale brought up the name Susan Brown in Missouri whose ancestor had originated in the UK. I replied, wondering at a possible link to north west England and was amazed to find not just a tenuous attachment, but the very same Isaiah I believed to have perished, plus his children, Frederick and Elizabeth.

But to return to the tale, Molesdale is unusual as a name because it is a corruption of Mouelsdale, Mouldsdale and other variants from the Cadishead/Hollins Ferry area, south west of Manchester. Essentially a poor, rural land then, it now boasts the passing Manchester Ship Canal, a step-back-in-time high street, out of place industry and the beautiful St Helen's Church.

As far as I can tell, the earliest ancestor is John Mouelsdale of Lowton which is some five miles to the north west in the Culcheth area of Warrington. John had five children. If I am right, the eldest was Betty who produced four illegitimate children. The 'survivor' of these was Mary who in turn gave 'base' birth to four children, three of which survived.

By the mid-1830s, the family as a unit was chasing the promise of work around Manchester. Samuel married Betty Cordonley, while Isaiah was matched with Jane Whittaker while living in Gorton. I believe that she may have been the daughter of James Whittaker and Betty Howard and was baptised at Hyde Chapel in 1813. This fits with her given father's name when they married and the fact that in the 1841 census when in Lancashire she records 'not born same county'. However, she was 30 when she died, not 32 as she should have been, but there is no reliable record of her age.

When she married, she was simply of 'full age' while in the 1841 census the instruction to round adult ages to the nearest five years often caused confusion. Isaiah, for example, recorded that he was 20 when he would have been 22 or 23, so Jane's 25 could easily have been 28. That leaves her death certificate and her age as reported by Isaiah. We know he was literate and presumably numerate, but he would only know what Jane had told him. Perhaps he believed what was on the census return, or maybe Jane shaved a couple of years off her age — she could have been five years his senior. Whatever, these details need to be treated with caution, but the Hyde born Jane is the only one that fits the bill on the IGI.

Portland Street
Portland Street, Ashton — © Tameside Image Library
Soon after they were married, they moved to Ashton-under-Lyne and lived on Portland Street where their first son, Robert Whittaker Molesdale, was born in 1840. He died there of pneumonia on 1st January 1842 and was buried three days later at St Peter's Church. Jane gave birth to two more children before dying herself of TB in 1845. She also was buried at St Peter's.

Isaiah married again, this time to Sarah Chatterton at the Wesleyan Chapel in Ashton-under-Lyne. (See my Chatterton home page and Chris Glass' Chatterton site.) Proof that this was a 'family migration' stems from the marriage of his sister, Eliza to John Chorlton at St Michael and All Angels in 1837.

So, what drove Isaiah to leave these shores? He was approaching middle-age, even by today's measure, and how could he have deserted a small child? Not to mention a wife? One theory is that he had more about him than you might otherwise think from someone from a deprived rural childhood before moving into a largely uneducated industrial one.

Isaiah's Signature
Isaiah's signature, while Jane made her mark — click for larger image

To start with he was literate which was not especially common among the 'lower orders' of the time. The digital copy of his marriage certificate to Jane (left) shows a confident signature, not the poor hand of those who had learned to sign their own name and little else. Second was the respectability he achieved later in America.

But what led me to think that Isaiah might have had more about him was a chance discovery on the London Gazette website. The Gazette is the newspaper of record in England, things like bankruptcies, unclaimed wills and, in this case, business partnership dissolutions. On 28 April 1854 PDF File there was reference to a partnership ending between John Crompton and Isaiah Molesdale and their interest in the Hope Hill Cotton Mill in Heaton Norris, an area between Stockport and Manchester.
Hope Mill Hill - 1848
Hope Hill Mill in 1848 - Click to magnify
(The mill appears on the 1848 OS map, but was demolished to make way for the railway. See Terry Drabble's brief history. Where it stood is now occupied by a B+Q superstore. Here is the present day map or try the aerial view.)

By 16 October 1855 PDF File there was a similar dissolution between Isaiah and one Joseph Yetlow. In both cases, Isaiah was the one responsible for 'all debts due to and and owing by the said copartnership'. The theory then is that Isaiah tried hard to better himself in England and failed (Hope Hill Mill was the subject of an earlier dissolution PDF File), possibly owing money, and so he packed his bags and his children off to the land of opportunity.

So why am I certain that this Isaiah and our Isaiah are the same person? Well I'll come to that later, but then there aren't many Isaiah Molesdales in the records. In fact there are none in the censuses at Ancestry.co.uk because in 1841 he is known as Josia, while in 1851 the image is faint and was later transcribed as Sarah. (There is a later Isaiah Molesdale, the original's nephew who went on to live in Bolton.) Having said that, I haven't been able to find any record of Isaiah's business partner, Joseph Yetlow, either.

There is some circumstantial evidence though. The 1854 record refers to copartner John Crompton, while in 1855 it was Joseph Yetlow. As previously mentioned, I could find no-one with the latter surname which suggests some sort of typo. On a QWERTY keyboard the obvious alternative would be Tetlow, though I'm not sure how this would have worked in the days of hot metal.

Anyway, I searched for Joseph Tetlow in the 1851 census and think I found him living at Crowthorn, Ashton-under-Lyne, (HO 107 2233 362) not too far from where Isaiah was at Cotton Street. But the interesting thing is that living in the same household was one John Crompton and family which is too unlikely to be a coincidence. Both men worked in the cotton industry, the first a spinner, the second a power loom weaver.

So is it feasible that Isaiah could have turned entrepreneur? On the face of it, the answer is no. He does not seem to have had the education or wherewithal to launch himself in business, although he had the experience of working in the mills and his later history suggests that he also had the ambition. However, Hope Hill Mill was not a large one and the apparent failures of the copartnerships bear out that he lacked the backing to make a go of it in a very competitive world.

Whatever the reason, on 15 September 1857 he arrived in New York, possibly to escape failed commitments, possibly to find something new and better. As he did, becoming a city commissioner in Cherryville, Missouri, while his son Frederick fought in the Civil War and ran off with his father's first American wife to live long and die wealthy which is a good combination!

Trouble from the Grave
However, Isaiah was to continue to cause controversy over 100 years after his birth. In July 1920, a case came before the Supreme Court of Missouri concerning the parentage of the Molesdale children born to Louisa Jane Wood, the dispute being over who should be heir to Frederick who had died leaving two hundred acres of land and several town plots in Jasper County.

Louisa was considerably younger that Isaiah, in fact she was the same age as her stepson, Frederick, when the couple married in 1863. Four children were born, Mary Ellen, Lucy and Ezra and an unknown child who died in infancy. It seems that Louisa and Frederick had become an item and the suggestion was that the children were Frederick's and not his father's.

Relations between Isaiah and his wife and son deteriorated to the extent that when Lucy was about to be born, Isaiah refused to send for a doctor and rode away, leaving his wife in the yard where she gave birth. Isaiah and Louisa continued to live together and Ezra was born a year later and an un-named child no later than 1869. Isaiah disowned his children, claiming only Mary Ellen as his own.

Frederick and Louisa in 1872, taking Lucy and Ezra with them and eventually Louisa divorced her husband and married his son in 1874. Mary Ellen the only child claimed by Isaiah, also joined them on the pretence that she was leaving to be educated.

The legal argument was that the children must be assumed to be Isaiah's as the couple had not been separated for more than a week when they were born. Isaiah was also said to be a “prolific progenitor” having fathered two children from his first marriage, one from his second and four from his third, whereas no more children were born to Louisa after her elopement. The assumption on this site is that they were Isaiah's, although it is by no means certain.

A copy of the report can be downloaded here . Two interesting points are made, first that one of the plaintiffs was William Edward Molesdale (known as Edward in the document), again demonstrating that there was contact between the US and UK family members. Second, it also states of Isaiah and Sarah that “he divorced his second wife or she divorced him” and so none of his US marriages should be considered bigamous.

And there I leave Isaiah and his transatlantic family, however, you can learn more from The Book of Isaiah as I have christened it — an account of the family's time in America written by Babs Christy which she has kindly allowed me to reproduce on these pages.

Back in the UK

Freda Molesdale Freda Molesdale (centre, no crown) as Hyde's Rose Queen

William Edward Molesdale
had moved to Hyde, a few miles away, across the Cheshire border. He married three time, first to Elizabeth Nuttall by whom he had two children, Fred and Clara.

By 1901, Fred was living with sister Clara and her husband, William Henry Hyde, in Helsby, Cheshire. Fred described himself as a golf ball maker which were produced at the Telegraph Manufacturing Company. He married Gertrude McDermott when he was 45. She was the widow of Charles McDermott and had a daughter called Clara.

Elizabeth Nuttall died in 1875 and William married Annie Maria Cramond in 1878 and had James, Sarah and Edward, my wife's grandfather. Annie died in 1890 and William married for a third time in 1902 to a widow, Martha Ann Chadwick. Significantly, at the first two weddings, he gave his father's occupation as cotton dresser which is what Isaiah was before he abandoned the boy. However, on the third certificate, he said that his father was deceased. This may have been an assumption on his part (Isaiah would have been 83) or possibly he knew it to be true. Babs' account suggests that William and his half-sister, Elizabeth, were in contact and that she may even have returned to England to visit him. Certainly, Babs has a photograph of William that does not exist this side of the Atlantic.

His sons, Edward and James served in World War One and extracts of their military records are available on this site. In Edward's case, although he signed up in October 1915, he was eventually discharged as being medically unfit due to synovitis in his left knee, spotted in the gym during training. It is interesting to speculate that had he been fit, he may have been one of the tens of thousands who perished in France and so my wife may never have been!

James had married Ethel Cooper in 1902 and the couple lived in Flowery Field. James was a grocer and went into business with Nathaniel Kemp, although the partnership was dissolved in 1913.

James then worked at Ashton Brothers and was a member of the Hyde Shepherds' Club. He was also active with Flowery Field Cricket Club of which his son, John, became chairman. James and Ethel had four children — Fred, Annie, George and John — all baptised at Flowery Field Church. However, only John Bennett Molesdale survived to adulthood and he did not marry. He remained active in the church, but was already quite unwell before his death at the hands of Harold Shipman.

Edward Molesdale
Edward also broke with family tradition by marrying and staying married to Lena Walker for 34 years! Both were descendants of Edward Chatterton, and were second cousins once removed. This is covered at length on the Chatterton page. The match was not particularly welcomed by Lena's family. Her father, Jesse Walker, was in a position of some importance with Hyde Town Council and had been Master of the Fortitude Lodge of the Freemasons two years earlier. In his eyes, Lena was marrying beneath herself.

In all liklihood this wouldn't have bothered them too. It was a mature marriage in that Edward was 35 while Lena was 33 and already the mother of eight year old Margaret. The couple went on to have a further three children - Harold who died in his teens of pneumonia, having fallen in the canal in Woodley, Raymond who married Auntie Fran and my wife's mother, Freda Molesdale.

Ironically, Edward and Lena disapproved of Freda's marriage to Arthur Crabtree for the same reason their own marriage was disapproved of — that she was marrying beneath herself. Both prejudices were demonstrably false. Edward and Lena lived happily (with occasional truculence according to Auntie Fran), as did Arthur and Freda.

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