Just over a week ago, a woman walked into the museum where I work (it was my day off!) and explained to my boss M., our house manager, and my buddy S., a fellow museum educator, that she was a descendant of one Edward Durant who lived on our property. She knew a lot about the Durant line, but she was confused to find no record in our exhibit of the ancestor to whom she had traced herself. M. took her name and contact info and told her that the educator who specialized in these things was off that day — and gave her my name and email.
Finding out about this the next day, I determined pretty quickly what the problem was — she appeared to have confused Edward Durant III, whose family tree is in our exhibit, with Edward Durant II, builder of the house. Her ancestor wasn’t Edward Durant III’s son — it was his brother.
Cornelius Durant was born 7 June 1732, the third Cornelius born to his mother and the lucky Cornelius who finally survived. An infant born with that name in 1718 had died just shy of five months old, and another child born in 1724 with that name died sometime before his 8th birthday, possibly well before. His mother was Judith Waldo Durant — her father and brother were both named Cornelius, and both Cornelius Waldos were wealthy and well-regarded merchant/traders in Boston society.
Cornelius Durant v.1732 was 8 years old when his father, Edward Durant II, died. Cornelius’s eldest brother, Edward Durant III, had been living on the family farm out in Worcester, Massachusetts. Edward III was 25, 17 years older than Cornelius, and had a wife and small children. With their father’s death, Edward III took possession of the family home in Newton, Massachusetts. Cornelius, his 10-year-old brother Thomas, and his 12-year-old sister Elizabeth moved with their widowed mother Judith back to a house in Boston.
Besides granting the Newton home to Edward III, their father’s will granted Elizabeth and Thomas (as well as their mother Judith) each homes in Boston, and it granted Cornelius the farm in Worcester. Being only 8 years old, though, this didn’t mean much to him in 1740.
What happens next is a little unclear. In 1751, though, Thomas Durant (Cornelius v.1732’s brother) marries Ann Hunt in Boston. When she dies in 1761, he departs Boston for St. Croix, in the West Indies.
Back in 1748, Ann Hunt’s brother Richard had married a woman named Mary Tothill in Boston, but by the mid-1760s, it’s not entirely clear what had happened to Richard Hunt. There’s a Richard Hunt buried in Bellingham, MA with an indeterminate date of birth and death, but I don’t really think that’s him. According to the Waldo Family genealogy, though, Mary Tothill Hunt (widow? divorcee? unclear.) may have married Cornelius Durant v.1732, possibly in Boston, possibly in 1766.
At least one source, though, suggests that Cornelius Durant v.1732 had a significant presence in St. Croix before his brother’s arrival in 1761, operating as a merchant/trader, and that Thomas relocated to join him in partnership. Tellingly, in 1754, Edward Durant of Newton and Cornelius Durant “of Boston” advertised in Boston newspapers for the sale of the farm property in Worcester that had been left to Cornelius in their father’s will. I’m inclined to believe that Cornelius — unmarried and 22 in 1754 — probably never lived on the property. With his grandfather and uncle (the Cornelius Waldos) as established merchant/traders, Cornelius v.1732’s entry into the family business would make a lot of sense. The Waldos may have been slave traders (among other things), but any mercantile operation would have involved ties to the Caribbean that might explain how Cornelius v.1732 found his way to St. Croix — where, between 1774 and 1781, he was listed as purchasing African slaves, according to Hoff and Holsoe.
Then, on 20 May, Massachusetts Town and Vital Records note his marriage to Maria/Mary Fenno in Medford, Massachusetts, the same town (just north of Boston) in which his mother, Judith Waldo Durant, had died in September 1785. Then, on 26 August 1787, without any original corresponding birth record, Cornelius Durant, son of Cornelius and Mary Durant, is baptized — also in Medford, Massachusetts.
This Cornelius Durant, v.1787, is at least as much of a mystery as his father.
I’m inclined to think Maria Fenno Durant is the mother of Cornelius v.1787, but it isn’t entirely clear. One set of records indicates he was born in August 1787, but that may be more of an extrapolation from his baptism date than an actual birth record. Children (including Cornelius’s cousins) were not necessarily baptized as infants — some were not baptized until as late as their teens. It’s possible he was born before 1786 and that his baptism record reads “Mary Durant” because his mother was Mary Tothill Hunt Durant, but unless this was an adult baptism (something early traditional American churches weren’t really doing at this time), his birth would have come at a relatively advanced maternal age. It seems at least as likely that “Mary Durant” is Maria Fenno Durant — or “Mary Fenno” as she’s listed in at least some town records of her marriage — and that Cornelius v.1787 was their first child, after Cornelius v.1732’s first marriage produced no offspring.
What leaves this open to question, though, is that the Waldo Family genealogy lists only one child for Cornelius and Maria Fenno Duant — Maria Cornelia Durant, born in March 1789. Her mother, Maria Fenno Durant, would pass away in August of that year. It includes exactly zero reference to Cornelius v.1787. Since that genealogy includes even infants who died at a few weeks old, the absence of Cornelius v.1787 is striking.
In December 1789, Cornelius Durant “of St. Croix” (v.1732) advertises in Boston newspapers in search of an enslaved teenager named William who has escaped. In 1794, Boston newspapers take note of a charitable donation by Cornelius Durant “of St. Croix, now on a visit to this town.” On 27 March 1807, Cornelius Durant v.1732’s daughter Maria Cornelia marries Andrew Ritchie in Roxbury, MA, and when Cornelius v.1732 dies in Boston in 1812, it is Andrew Ritchie who hosts his funeral and becomes executor of his estate — not Cornelius v.1787.
So where was Cornelius v.1787?
Our museum guest provides a potential answer, but not one I can document until about 1820. In my next post, I’ll explain her story. Meanwhile, if anyone has tips on getting 18th-century vital records out of St. Croix, let me know…
(Documentation/bibliographical info will appear in the comments.)