Descendants Speak: Mr. Thomas Hutchings

This post is the second in our series Descendants Speak, in which I interview descendants of those buried at the church.  Mr. Hutchings’s story highlights how studying our pasts connects us to our presents–our own experiences, our own families, and our own interests.  We have been fortunate to learn much from Mr. Hutchings about his family and the church from his research. If you think you might be related to an individual who was buried at Spring Street, please contact us.  You can read the first entry in this series here.  –Meredith A.B. Ellis

Why did you get involved with your family’s genealogy?

My Dad had always been interested in his genealogy, but never had time to pursue it. He used to occasionally remark, “We must have a castle somewhere in Scotland or England.” I learned our distant relations did, but we would have no claim.

His younger sister, Janet (my Aunt), lived in Southern California her entire life. Many of my family and cousins had removed themselves from Southern California and family visits with her were scarce. Living a mere 250 miles away, I became her closest relative. As she was aging, I would visit her on a monthly or bi-monthly basis. We would spend the day together, most of which was taken in telling family stories from the past and reviewing old photographs. It was while visiting with her that I decided to begin the family search. That was around 1985. I’ve been searching since.

With some early stories to unearth, I was able to confirm or change some substantial facts of some of her stories with her. She was happy that the stories could be discovered so easily. This was before the internet. At the time, I had to rely on the LDS catalogues and visits to the National Archives.

What have you learned about your family, particularly about Samuel and Lois Hutchings? 

     I have learned a lot about Samuel and Lois. Samuel was born into a family of four boys and two girls. He was born in 1761 in Connecticut Farms, NJ. Learning about Samuel helped me learn more about the Revolutionary War. I had read some accounts in several genealogical books that Samuel was held a prisoner by the British. Searching the records, I could not find anything about his being a prisoner. It was a recent search a couple of years ago that bore out that fact. In his writing about the family, as he knew it, Reverend Samuel Hutchings, Samuel’s son, wrote a 27 page typescript. In it he wrote that he had learned as a young boy that his father, Samuel, had gone into the (New York) harbor aboard a small fishing smack (a small boat for fishing along the Atlantic coastline) and had fired into a British frigate and was taken prisoner. He was only 15 years old at the time. His older brother Jonathon, who was a Tory, brought him provisions. Samuel tried escaping with others, but was caught. He was eventually released. I discovered that his father, Jacob, took the family back to Elizabeth, NJ, for the duration of the war.

What favorite stories have you learned about your ancestors during this time period?

I learned that the Hutchings were quite diverse in their politics. Samuel was very religious and patriotic, as borne out by the story of his being taken prisoner by the British. There are many interesting stories I have learned and have pieced together, but one stands out. It is about the life of Theodore C. Hutchings. Theodore was the sixth child and third oldest son of Stephen B. Hutchings, Samuel and Lois’s fifth child and third oldest son. Theodore was Samuel and Lois’s grandson. Theodore was 5 years old at the time of Samuel’s death. He never knew his grandmother, Lois, who died 6 months earlier.

Theodore was an eclectic person. There is some evidence I am still trying to uncover that he was an actor at a very young age. An obscure article in New York City around the early 1830s tells the story of a young Teddy Hutchings, an aspiring actor, who plays New York City and had additional experience in London (I read the article, but failed to save it). This must have been the same Theodore, because in the 1860 Census in Ashland, Ohio, he is listed as an actor.

Theodore’s experiences were many. In January 1848, gold was discovered in California. On January 15, 1849, Theodore and William Le Blanc, his brother-in-law and husband of Helen Louise Hutchings were listed as passengers aboard the bark, Croton, and headed for the gold fields of California. They sailed around the tip of South America and landed in San Francisco on June 4, 1849. The day before landing, each of the gold miners signed the “Croton Compact,” agreeing to meet in New York City at the Astor House on the fifth anniversary of landing in San Francisco. They were all to have dinner at 7 PM on the 4th of June. It is unknown if any dinner took place.

According to Wallace Van Cortland Auser, “On board the bark Croton a bunch of the boys were whooping it up at the prospect of landing at San Francisco the next day and quickly striking it rich in the gold fields.” I wonder how Theodore and William fared. I do know that Theodore was still living in Sierra, California, in the heart of “Gold Country” in 1852, according to the 1852 California Census.

By 1855, Theodore was back in New York City and in 1857 was married to Frances A. Fenner, the daughter of a mariner. Had he met Frances through a fellow mariner? Frances was the same age as Theodore, and earlier at the age of 17 in 1843, Theodore was listed on the U.S. Seaman’s Certificate of Protection as a certified seaman who was a U.S. citizen, and protected against impressment by the British fleet.

By 1859, Theodore and Frances were in Cincinnati, Ohio, where their first son, Theodore C. Hutchings was born in December of that year. Seven months later, they are in Ashland, Ohio, and listed in the 1860 Census.

On May 14, 1860, Francis “Frank” Thomas Hutchings was born in Columbus, Ohio.

In April 1861, the War Between the States broke out: The Civil War. Theodore enlisted as a private in the 34th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, and was later promoted to Sergeant. His enlistment documents describes him as “Eyes, brown; Hair, black; Complexion, dark; Height, 5′ 5 3/4 inches.” He enlisted on July 25, 1861, at Camp Lucas, Clermont County, Ohio. His unit served primarily in West Virginia skirmishes and battles.

On December 22, 1864, Theodore’s regiment boarded trains for Webster, Virginia and then encamped at Beverly, Virginia on December 28. On January 11, 1865, a Confederate force attacked Beverly, surprising the Union garrison and capturing most of the Northern soldiers. The few members of the 34th that did escape retreated to Philippi, West Virginia. The 34th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment was disbanded and merged with the 36th OVI. During the War, Theodore’s unit had seen 10 officers and 120 men killed, and another 130 men dead from disease or accidents.

Reviewing Theodore’s military records, he needed to take leave from the military a year after joining. He received notice his wife had died. He writes to his the Adjutant of the 34th OVI.

“Flat Top Tannery, VA., July 27, 1862


I have the honor to apply for a furlough for the following reasons.

Having received a dispatch announcing my wife’s death, and leaving two helpless children, one nearly three and the other one years old, among entire strangers, it is my wish to place them in a position should any unforeseen accident happen to me. That they would be well taken care of, and not left altogether to the charities of the cold world.

//s// Theodore C. Hutchings

Sergt. Co “F. 34th O.V.I.

To E.T. Charles, Jr.

Adjt, 345h O.V.I.”

Theodore was gone for about a month, having placed Theodore Jr, and Frank in the care of friends, Eugene Cone and his family, in Westbrook, CT. Mr. Cone is listed in the 1870 US Census as a Ship Carpenter.

I can personally feel the emotions that Theodore felt, being a combat veteran myself, and sharing similar experiences as Theodore. At the end of the Civil War, he was mustered out of the service on 27 July 1865 from Wheeling, W.VA. Within 88 days, on October 23, 1865, Theodore was dead. On his death certificate, signed in Manchester, NH, Theodore had died at the age of 40 of typhoid.

Typhoid was also known at the time as “camp fever.” It was believed that Theodore had contracted typhoid during his military encampment in West Virginia. This was, at least, the position Frank took when applying for Veteran’s benefits years later. He was denied.

Theodore was buried in the Marble Cemetery, New York City, on October 27, 1865, in the vault of family friends, the Thayers. In May 12, 1870, Theodore was reinterred and laid to rest in the Hutchings’ family plot of the Oakhill Cemetery, in Nyack, NY.

His grave is marked by the typical tombstone. I am applying to the Department of Veterans Affairs and working with staff at Oak Hill to provide a Veteran Grave Marker for Theodore.

An odd postscript to Theodore. After years of searching and obtaining personal records, and searching church records, I could never find Theodore’s middle name referenced at all. He is simple Theodore C. Hutchings. Like his father, Stephen B. Hutchings, who never recorded his middle name, I learned through a distant cousin whose father was named Stephen Brown Hutchings. She asked him, when he was still alive, how he came by his name. He replied, “It’s an old family name.”

How did you find out about the Spring Street Archaeology Project?

While searching for records regarding the Spring Street Presbyterian Church and Samuel’s involvement, I saw an article in a Greenwich newspaper about the project.

What did it mean for you to attend the memorial for the Spring Street congregation?

Attending the memorial for congregation was very touching and meaningful. It gave me a much better sense of belonging to my heritage.

Why does this archaeology and history project matter to you?

It matters to me because it puts an additional face to the character of my family. Learning about the health concerns, issues, and dangers, along with a generalized lifestyle of the people of the area, diet, habits, and illnesses, makes me more aware of how Samuel and Lois coped.

Why is important to you, as a descendant, to be a part of a project like this?

As a descendant of Samuel and Lois, being a part of this project allows me to remain connected to ongoing research into the Spring Street Presbyterian Church, and it opens up new avenues of research for me into my distant family.

Mr. Thomas Hutchings at the Syracuse University Physical Anthropology Laboratory.

Mr. Thomas Hutchings at the Syracuse University Physical Anthropology Laboratory.