by Annette Bott Richards
This is more or less a continuation of the history of Philip Wise Bott relating to his son, James who was born in Fulham, Middlesex, England on the 29th of Apr 1848. James was fifteen at the time the family joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but he was not interested in this “new” religion. When it was decided that the family would immigrate to the United States to be with the “Saints” in Utah, he elected to stay in England. Reluctantly they left him there with enough furniture to meet his needs. He was now twenty-one and of marriageable age and it took him only a month from the time they left to take that step. He married Mary Ann Hoskins a daughter of George Hoskins, a fisherman, and Ellenor Liddard, on July 26, 1869 in Hammersmith.
It was very hard for Eliza to leave her first-born son with the prospect of never seeing him again. This, she was determined, would not happen. So she saved money for their journey and eventually persuaded him and his wife to come to New York. Their time of arrival was somewhere between the birth of their first child, James George born 5 Aug 1870 in Hammersmith and their second child, Henry, born 24 Sept 1873 in Williamsburg, now Brooklyn. It is presumed that they stayed with the Bott family until they could find a place to live. One thing is certain, however, Mary Ann knew Jim’s family well. Keep this in mind as the story unfolds.
John Henry accepted the Gospel wholeheartedly right from the time he first heard it preached. He was very anxious to travel to Utah and was the first of the family to make the journey. He left May 21, 1874 but prior to that time, the family arranged to have a family portrait taken. James had his little family’s picture taken at the same time. It would play a major role in identifying those descended from him. John Henry arrived in Utah and settled in Brigham City, but was called to work cutting stone for the Salt Lake Temple. It was here that he developed his abilities in stone cutting. In November of 1876 he was asked to go back to Brigham City to work on the Tabernacle there, which he did.
He was able to prepare for the rest of his family to follow him to Utah roughly a year later. Philip stayed to finish up his business while Eliza took Joe and his three sisters, Fanny, Elizabeth, and Emma, and traveled to Utah by train. Mary Ann married Hyrum Ford in New York and a son was born to them on April 7, 1873. They remained in Brooklyn for a time but traveled to Utah following the birth of their second child, a girl born September 23, 1876. Ward records tell us that they were in Ogden by the time their third child was born in 1879.
Philip followed his family soon after their departure. But just prior to his departure, he wrote a postcard to his son John addressed to “Box Elder County, Utah Territory” mentioning his departure and that “Mary and the children are well”. Keep this in mind also.
The family settled temporarily in Brigham City and James probably corresponded with his mother for some period of time. Then in the last letter received from him, he told his mother, “don’t be surprised if you see me walk in with my gun over my shoulder”. Eliza wrote back to James, but sadly, it was returned unopened and they never heard from him again. For many years it was thought that James must have taken his family and returned to England as they were having a hard time adjusting to life in this country. With communications not well developed between the eastern and western part of the country, there was no way to know where they might have gone. It seemed to be an unanswerable question and the mystery remained for over ninety years.
I had heard about this great uncle and I know others in the Bott family, as they traveled, were always looking for “Botts” hoping to find someone that might be descended from James, but to no avail. The in 1961 I made contact with Secelia Morris, a daughter of John Henry by his third wife who was living in Brigham City. She was helping me with my research on the Bott line and had been working for some years on it herself. It is interesting how family history and genealogical research bonds even distant family members together. I felt very close to Secelia and appreciated her as a friend. I believe she had suffered for years from crippling arthritis and was confined to a wheel chair. On one particular visit, I asked her about James and if she knew anything about him. She called Hazel Bott, wife of Lorenzo Bott, on the telephone and Hazel came right over to her house carrying a big book. As we looked through her pictures, I spotted a picture of James and his family taken in New York and directly underneath was written: “James went by the name of SKEGGS”. Well that was entirely new information and opened up new possibilities for further research.
In 1964 my husband was serving as an assistant to the Congressman from Utah and we were living in Virginia near Washington, D. C. That year we visited the World Fair in New York and were actually staying in Brooklyn. Mother was with us and suggested that we check out the telephone directory, which we did. We found a “Harry Skeggs” listed and also a “Catherine Skeggs”, however, I decided not to call them at that time but would write a letter instead. We were scheduled to return to Utah soon afterwards, so I waited until we had arrived back in Utah and were somewhat settled before I sat down to write the letter. I decided to write to Harry Skeggs because I figured Catherine would probably have the Skeggs name through marriage, which turned out to be true.
My letter was answered, very promptly, by Harry Skeggs, but it was the father, of the Harry Skeggs listed in the directory. And sure enough, Catherine Skeggs was his mother and wife of Harry Skeggs Sr. From the information I had furnished him, he was pretty certain that his grandfather was the same James Skeggs for whom I was searching. So I promptly sent another letter, enclosing a copy of the picture of James and his family. He wrote back that this same picture had been handed down in his family and it was in the possession of one of his relatives, but he had seen it before. Wow! I had struck the jackpot! It was very exciting for me to have found members of James’ family and correspondence began to flow regularly between us. He gave me much information about his family and I gave him much more information on the rest of the Bott family. He was amazed that he had so many relatives as none of the family had any idea there was anyone else related to them in the entire country.
Earlier while living in Virginia, I visited the National Archives and was able to trace James through the New York City directory up until 1901 in Brooklyn. But at that point I had come to a dead end. I also found the family in the 1880 census of Brooklyn and was able to add another child to the family. (See the genealogical record of James’ family in the back). I had since obtained the marriage certificate for James and Mary Ann in which he gave his father as “Philip William Skeggs”. To me, this displayed his displeasure with his father and the circumstances of his birth outside of marriage. Notice he still used his father’s initials. I was also able to obtain the birth certificate for their first child born in England. Now I was learning much more about the family and it was as if I was b\putting a puzzle together with the pieces falling into place.
He told me that his grandfather had moved to Essex in the state of Connecticut in about 1902 and worked there as a painter. His son, Henry, father of the man with whom I was corresponding, had remained in Brooklyn except for a short time spent in Connecticut. This enabled us to find members of the family, and had they all stayed up north, it is doubtful I could have ever found them. At any rate, he told me that James died in about 1915 and was buried in Essex. With that information I wrote tot he Sexton of the cemetery in Essex and asked him if he would please check for a record of the death of James Skeggs. I even enclosed a dollar for his time and effort. He very kindly searched the cemetery, found the memorial stone and sent me the information, returning my dollar at the same time. He also said he had given my letter to a Mr. James Skeggs in Deep River, Connecticut who might be related.
Before I could even write to Mr. James Skeggs, I received a letter from him. He was a cousin to Harry in New York but they had little, if any contact. Now I was getting more information from a different branch of the family. He was descended from the first son of James and Mary Ann. His health was not good as he was suffering from an enlarged heart and had recently had a heart attack. Nevertheless, he told me he was thrilled to find out he had many relatives unknown to his branch of the family and he would give anything to be able to visit us in Utah. But his health would not permit this.
He told me that James had six children, four sons and two daughters. The fourth son, David was a particularly handsome young man, but was tragically drowned in the Connecticut River at the age of twenty-four. This occurred in 1906, a week after my dad, Bert, was born. Following David, Lillian was born in 1886 and then the last child Helen, was born in 1888.
I learned that James actually died in 1918 and was able to get his death certificate. It is interesting to learn that his wife, Mary Ann, was the informant and it was listed that his parentage was “unknown”. This indicates to me that she simply did not want her family to know anything about the main part of the Bott family living in Utah. She probably influenced Jim to cut all ties with his family, which he did of course. Had Papa and John Henry known their whereabouts and that he lived until 1918, I am certain they would have made an effort to visit him.
With the information we now had, we were able to have the temple ordinances preformed for the entire family. Mary Ann lived a long life, dying on May 3, 1941, the day following her ninety-third birthday.
Through my corresponding with James in Deep River, I was able to get the address of a cousin who was a daughter of Lillian, another of our James’ grandchildren. Her name was also Lillian and she had a sister, Dorothy. I happened to write to Dorothy first but because she was younger and did not know family history as well, she referred me to Lillian. It was from Lillian that I really got a lot of information on the family. She held nothing back and told me many things about the lives of family members, both good and some sad circumstances such as alcoholism, etc. I could see that had the family received the gospel in their lives, it might have made a difference. I particularly enjoyed hearing from Lillian because of her outgoing personality and sense of humor. She reminded me a little of my cousin Margaret Betts Birkin. Both Lillian and Dorothy wanted copies of everything I had on the Bott family and so I got together what I had and sent if off to them.
In 1981 we moved back to Virginia while my husband served as Republican National Chairman under President Reagan. One of the first official things he did was to take a six-day tour of the New England states, meeting with Republican Party officials of each state. As his family, we were able to travel with him and there were wonderful people there to take us sight-seeing while he conducted his political business. We spent one day in each state so I made arrangements to meet Lillian and her husband, Joseph Garrity while we were in Hartford, Connecticut. I did not have a lot of time with them, but it was an exciting experience for me to at last meet in person a granddaughter of James Skeggs, thus bringing the two families together, even for a short visit.
I kept up correspondence with her for a while, but the rigors of our life on the Washington scene and my church responsibilities kept me so busy that in time I lost track of her. Now I have some addresses and telephone numbers of a daughter of James (he died in 1968) in Deep River, Connecticut and hope to get caught up on what has happened in the past seventeen years. This has been one of my choice experiences during my years of research, and perhaps the story is not finished yet.
Back in November of 1967, mother and dad decided to take a trip back east and at the top of their agenda was a visit with some of these new relatives. They made arrangements to visit with Harry and some of his family in New York and James and his wife in Connecticut. Rather than try to retell their experience, I shall include mother’s write-up of their experience.
Meeting the Skeggs of Richmond Hill, Long Island,
and the Skeggs of Deep River, Connecticut
In early 1967 we began making plans for a very extensive trip to the eastern part of the United States. We found many reasons for going, namely; to visit the historical parts of the country on both a national and church level, to seek out two families related to the Botts and to attend the Church Pageant at Palmyra, New York. We carefully made reservations before we left, so we would know where we would be each night. We then made a special effort to contact Harry Skeggs of Long Island and James Skeggs in Connecticut, so they would know when we were coming, as we didn’t want to miss them. We just knew it would be highlight of our trip to become acquainted with these relatives for whom we had searched for so long. Not knowing who they were or where they were for more than ninety years was something we could not ignore.
Upon arriving in New York City, we found our way to the Travelodge on West 42nd Street. When we were well settled, we called the residence of Harry Skeggs. Catherine, his wife, expecting to hear from us, was most gracious and happy to have us call. She invited us to dinner at their home, but we felt with the very short time we could stay in their city and the distance involved reaching their home on the subway, that we should decline. However, we invited them to come to our motel for the visit. It certainly would be no problem for them to find their way around, which was more than we could say for ourselves. They agreed to come into the city the following evening at seven o’clock.
Our motel was on both sides of the street, a rather unusual arrangement, so we weren’t sure just where to wait for them. However, we decided to wait near the office and lobby. At the appointed time I sighted them coming down the opposite side of the street and began waving enthusiastically. Bert hadn’t studied their pictures as I had done, so he was not prepared to identify them. He was somewhat upset by my show of recognition with someone he thought might be complete strangers and in a city the size of New York. He did not hesitate telling me so, but I knew the minute I saw them that I had made no mistake. They waved back and crossed the busy street at an angle, which we wouldn’t think of doing in Utah.
From the very first, we felt a kinship with them, which isn’t often felt with those we haven’t met before. We took them across the street to our motel room and there spent a very interesting and exciting three hours, hardly pausing for a breath. We compared family stories and were brought up to date on their immediate families and ours. They brought pictures of their homes, their children and grandchildren. We extended an invitation to them to come to Utah, so we are hoping they will be able to do this at some future date. Florence, a sister to Harry, and her husband, Bill Isakson were in Salt Lake City in June with an arranged tour, so they were familiar with Temple Square and a bit of our Mormon heritage. We compared family stories and were brought up to date on their activities over the years. Harry had been a New York City policeman, then a guard in a bank until retirement. Bill worked on Manhattan Island for a power company and was due to report to work for the midnight shift.
Harry looks somewhat like Ren (Lorenzo) Bott but not as tall. Florence is blonde, average in height and size, and is very vivacious, having a keen sense of humor. She called us “her forty-second cousins” and still does. I kept assuring her that we are much closer than that. She stepped up and kissed Bert on the cheek, giving him a gentle hug as they left to board the bus for the subway. We do hope we shall see them again, but we shall never forget meeting them.
The following morning we headed for Connecticut to see Jim Skeggs. He had written Annette, “I’ll be waiting on the front porch for your folks”. This he literally was doing when we arrived. Never have I seen anyone as excited as he was. He kept saying, “I wish I lived where I could see you folks every day”. He and his wife, Hattie, live in a small frame home in Deep River, a very small picturesque town, so typical of the New England states. Everything around us was beautifully green with no effort on the part of the inhabitants, just like a garden on every side. We visited with them on their front porch for almost two hours and learned from a good source what we hadn’t heard in New York City from their cousins.
Jim recently had spent considerable time in the hospital with a heart attack. Hattie told us that due to the fact that he had an enlarged heart, he could go at any time. Because of this condition, she assured me that he would not be able to stand a trip to Utah. While he was hospitalized, his only sister died, so he was unable to attend the funeral. Her death was a great sorrow to him, as he has very few relatives left.
Hattie and Jim live in very humble circumstances in a very old house that had belonged to her father. No doubt, they had sufficient on which to live. But it is quite a contrast tot he Skeggs of Long Island, for they leave each winter and spend as much as six months in Florida. Jim had followed the vocation of painting throughout his life until his retirement. Judging fro the number of white frame houses in the area (there are no brick ones), we felt sure he could have kept very busy. Never have we been greeted more enthusiastically nor have we ever known anyone who wanted to know more about his ancestry nor of his living relatives. He fairly clung to us, but we felt we had to leave in order to get to our motel in Boston. We wanted to do some sightseeing on the way there, possibly around the Plymouth, Massachusetts area.
We have sent books concerning the Mormons and hope to send the Book of Mormon to these relatives in the near future. The temple ordinances have been done for the family of James Skeggs or Bott, his wife and six children. Perhaps this is the reason we have felt the need to search for these folks.