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.
William Edward Molesdale
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
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
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
I believed to
have perished, plus his children, Frederick
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
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.
Soon after they were married, they moved to Ashton-under-Lyne
and lived on Portland
where their first son, Robert
, 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.
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
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
Gazette website. The Gazette is the newspaper of record
in England, things like bankruptcies, unclaimed wills
and, in this case, business partnership dissolutions.
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.
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
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
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
Freda Molesdale (centre, no crown) as Hyde's Rose
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
was living with sister Clara
and her husband, William Henry
, in Helsby, Cheshire. Fred
described himself as a golf ball
which were produced at the Telegraph
. He married Gertrude
when he was 45. She was the widow of Charles
McDermott and had a daughter called Clara
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!
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 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
and Lena disapproved of
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.