Irene Bell Wait of Perth Amboy, New Jersey—my new theory

Irene Bell Wait (b. 1764) married my fifth great-grandfather David Wait (b. 1754, Edinburgh, Scotland) on 21 April 1874. They lived in Perth Amboy, Middlesex County, New Jersey.

A recent comment left on my post Irene Bell Wait, one of my brick walls, which I wrote nearly 7 years ago, prompted me to go back and re-read it. You know, whenever I read my old posts, which isn’t very often, I kind of come away amazed that I managed to come up with so much information. Maybe some of you fellow family history bloggers feel the same way: “Did I write all that??!”

Anyway, that first post mentions an Andrew Bell, a witness to David Wait’s will, which was executed on October 29, 1810, shortly before David succumbed. His wife Irene Bell had died in 1804 at age 39, leaving him with 11 children, many of whom were still very young when he died. Twenty-year-old daughter Margaret was left a house in which she was to raise her younger siblings.

I wanted to try to connect Andrew Bell with Irene Bell as this was the first time I actually sensed I had a lead as to her possible identity, but my attempts to link the two failed.

My latest theory, and it’s only a very loose theory at the moment, was spawned by a reexamination of materials I’d already read and the discovery of a few new ones, and that is that Andrew Bell (b. 1757) and Irene Bell (b. 1764) were half-siblings.

This hinges on “Andrew Bell” being the Andrew Bell who was born in 1757, in Philadelphia, to English-born John Bell (cir. 1725-1778) and his first wife Hannah Smith, daughter of Frederick Smith of Philadelphia, hatter.* One other child, Cornelia Bell, was born in 1755. She eventually married William Paterson, one of the signers of the Constitution. She is mentioned on the website www.constitutionfacts.com under the heading “The Women Behind the Signers of the U.S. Constitution” (note: the birth and death dates are incorrect).

Andrew Bell and his father John Bell were Loyalists, while Cornelia was pro independence. How the family dealt with these divided loyalties is reflected in the numerous letters Cornelia wrote to her brother during the war years. You can read about this in the book Past and Present: Lives of New Jersey Women

At some point, the marriage between John Bell and Cornelia and Andrew’s mother Hannah Smith ended, and John Bell remarried on 27 April 1763, to widow Annaatje “Anna” Meyer Tilden (1731-1819, daughter of Johannes Pietersz Meyer and Elizabeth Pell**; Find a Grave memorial #16213136). Anna Meyer’s first husband Captain Richard Tilden had died in October 1762 in Philadelphia. They had been married for roughly 11 years and had had two children:

Richard, who died in infancy, and John Bell Tilden, December 1762-1838 (Find a Grave memorial #16213149). Obviously, given the second son’s name was John Bell Tilden, the Tildens had some very close connection to John Bell. And, clearly, John Bell did not hesitate to leave Hannah to go take care of the Captain’s widow and her infant son.

From p. 465-466  of Volume IX of The Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography, we can read the following about Captain Richard Tilden and son John Bell Tilden (note that the latter’s birth year here is given as 1761; his tombstone says 1762):

The Tilden or Tylden family is one of great antiquity in England; as far back as the reign of Edward III. We find William Tylden paying aid for land in Kent, when the Black Prince was knighted. ( I ) The first Tilden of whom we have record in America was Captain Richard Tilden of England, who died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. October, 1762. He married Anna Meyer, born in New York, August 31, 1731, daughter of John Meyer and Elizabeth (Pell) Meyer, and granddaughter of William and Elizabeth (Van Tuyl) Pell. She bore him two sons: John Bell, see forward, and one who died in infancy. (II) Dr. John Bell Tilden. son of Captain Richard and Anna (Meyer) Tilden, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, December 9, 1761, baptized in the Episcopal church, and died July 31, 1838, in New Town, now Stephen City, Virginia. He was a student at Princeton College at the time of the revolutionary war and left college to join the Continental army, receiving a commission as ensign. May 28, 1779, in the Second Regiment Pennsylvania line, commanded by Colonel Walter Stewart. He was subsequently promoted to second lieutenant, his commission to date from July 25, 1780. His regiment left York, Pennsylvania, for the southern campaign in the spring of 1781, and he was present at the siege of Yorktown and surrender of General Cornwallis.  At the close of the war he was honorably mustered out of service, and became a member of the Pennsylvania Society of the Cincinnati. During his entire service he kept a diary, which is now in the possession of the Pennsylvania Historical Society, in Philadelphia. Pennsylvania. Dr. Tilden settled in Frederick county, Virginia, where he practiced medicine until the close of his life. Some time prior to 1824 he was ordained to the ministry of the Methodist Episcopal church, and during the agitation of the question of lay representation, he advocated the equal rights of the laity with the clergy in the legislative department of the church, for which he and other prominent members were expelled for so-called heresy. In 1872 the church admitted its error by adopting lay representation into its polity. Long before the subject of African slavery took a political shape, Dr. Tilden manumitted his slaves and sent them to Liberia with one year’s outfit. Dr. Tilden married August 9, 1784, Jane Chambers, born in York county, Pennsylvania, December 18, 1766, died May, 1827, (laughter of Joseph and Martha (McCalmont) Chambers, of York, Pennsylvania. [It goes on to list all the children and their progeny.]

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John Bell was 38 when he married Anna Tilden. She was 32, so it would have been highly plausible for her to have had more children. Was Irene Bell, one of my fifth great-grandmothers, a product of this union?

Irene Bell was born in 1764. When John Bell died in 1778 at his Bellfield Estate in Bridgewater Township, Somerset County, New Jersey. Irene would have been about 14. The fact that she is not mentioned in John Bell’s will does not seem surprising to me given her age. Note to self to try to find Anna Bell’s will. Perhaps, Irene is mentioned in it.

John Bell’s will appears on page 40 of the New Jersey, Abstract of Wills, 1670-1817 (accessible via Ancestry website, and probably Family Search). In his will, John leaves the following:

  • $500 to wife Anna Meyer Tilden Bell;
  • $200 to ex-wife Hannah Smith;
  • “a negro” to stepson John B. Tilden, who was anti-slavery (as per the Virginia biographical info above) and surely would have freed this individual;
  • “a negro woman, Delia, and her son Rory” to daughter Cornelia Bell;
  • “house and fifty acres of land in Bridgewater Township, Somerset County” to son Andrew Bell;
  • “All my lands in Earls Colne, in County of Essex, England” to friend Mark Grime of Witham, County Essex, England;
  • Residue of Estate to Anna Bell, Cornelia Bell, Andrew Bell, and John Tilden.

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Last reflections:  Irene Bell married David Wait in 1784; it had struck me before that some of the names in their family Bible appeared to be the German/Dutch variants. If Irene’s mother was from a Dutch community and had a Dutch upbringing, as Anna Meyer did, this may explain why a few names in the family Bible sound Dutch. Also, her first two sons were named David and John. Perhaps, David’s father was also David.  If Irene’s father was John Bell, the name John would have been thoroughly appropriate for a second-born son.

In one of my past posts, I’d mentioned that there was some confusion as to which side of the Revolutionary War events David Wait was on. Given what I’ve learned recently—about Perth Amboy being a Loyalist stronghold during the War—the version of him coming to America as a member of the British forces and subsequently being captured now makes the most sense. It would also make sense that David felt comfortable marrying into a Loyalist family. The War had only officially ended a little more than six months prior to their marriage.

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If you have read this far, you are probably someone interested in this family line. Please let me know if you ever find anything that corroborates (or refutes) my “theory”; I will certainly keep chipping away at this. Hopefully we can all get this figured out some day!

PS: I will say that I am very confused by the fact that John Bell had two wives and took the second one while the first was still living. I’ve been doing some reading on marriage, etc. during the pre-Revolutionary Colonial period. Divorce was very uncommon. I will have to look into this some more, but from what I’ve read thus far, the laws in place would likely only have condoned divorce in cases of abuse, adultery, cruelty, or abandonment, and would not have awarded the guilty party the opportunity to remarry while the wronged party was still alive. So was Hannah Smith the guilty party here? Did her actions lead to a divorce and John Bell’s remarriage to Captain Tilden’s widow?

John Bell Tilden was born in December 1872, two months after his father Captain Richard Tilden died. Did Anna name the baby John Bell Tilden because John had been supporting her financially and morally? They married four months after the baby was born.

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*See page 40 of the New Jersey, Abstract of Wills, 1670-1817

**Ancestry.com. New York City, Compiled Marriage Index, 1600s-1800s [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005.

Categories: Bell, Loyalists, New Jersey, Perth Amboy, Presbyterian, Revolutionary War, Wait, Woodbridge | Tags: , , | 6 Comments

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6 thoughts on “Irene Bell Wait of Perth Amboy, New Jersey—my new theory

  1. I/ve often found new life in old data – b/c it is being viewed with new eyes. Like OH!

    Like

  2. I learn something new every time I revisit my files it seems. Something pops out, based on the story I’m working on, but previously had not been relevant. It sounds like you’ve got a very good theory going.

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    • Yes, I am always amazed at details I missed the first time around. I’m not sure this is a good theory but it’s the only one I have at the moment. I should research the topic of marriage in Colonial times. John Bell must have had to divorce his first wife to go off with the late Captain’s widow. I’m assuming it would have been somewhat scandalous, but maybe not.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I also often have new insights when revisiting genealogical work that I’ve done in the past. Sometimes I’ve found additional relevant data during the intervening time; other times, I just approach the materials in a different way.

    Like

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