Bell

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

Irene Bell Wait, one of my brick walls

On April 21, 1784, a woman named Irene Bell married my fifth great grandfather, David Wait (b. May 20, 1754).

Who was Irene Bell, born on October 20, 1764, and a resident of Perth Amboy, NJ? What was her background? Who were her parents? The few clues I have about her have been gleaned from a biographical sketch on her son James (b. 1824) that appeared in a book, Biographical and portrait cyclopedia of the Third congressional district of New Jersey (p. 500-502), and that is that she and David were active in the Perth Amboy Presbyterian Church and parents to nearly a dozen children. I found a separate source stating she was born in Connecticut (FamilySearch™ Ancestral File v4.19, AFN: 9TX4-0G), but no evidence was provided to substantiate that.

Irene died in Perth Amboy on May 31, 1804, at age 39, her last child having been born in 1801. David’s will, written in 1810 and mentioned in the last post, contains the name of Andrew Bell. I decided to research this Andrew to see whether he was in any way related to Irene.

I discovered an Andrew Bell who had been a loyalist and served in the NYC office of the British commander-in-chief during the Revolutionary War. After the war his loyalist ties did not have the impact on his future life that they may have had otherwise, likely because Andrew’s sister, Cornelia Bell, was married to William Paterson, a prominent patriot and attorney-general for New Jersey. Eventually Paterson served in the senate, as governor, and as a member of the Supreme Court. Andrew Bell, who had studied law in Perth Amboy before the war, returned to Perth Amboy after the war and began a new chapter in his life as a successful merchant. The NJ Historical Society’s biographical note describes him as having been appointed the collector of Perth Amboy’s port in 1800 for the final year of John Adams’ presidency.  During this time period, he was also the deputy surveyor general of the East Jersey Proprietors and for approximately thirty-five years, ca. 1806-1842, served as the surveyor general. The Historical Society has in its archives a fascinating collection of his personal papers, land surveys, financial records, maps, and letters.

So, I was intrigued; could Cornelia and Andrew have had a sister named Irene? Well, I discovered the answer unfortunately was “no”.  Cornelia is listed in a 1997 book on famous NJ women (**Burstyn, p. 33-35) and it is stated that she was the oldest child and only daughter of NJ landowner John Bell and his wife.  So while I think this Andrew Bell may very well have been a witness to David Wait’s will, he was not Irene’s brother. Could Irene have been related to him in some other way? A cousin, perhaps?

Another angle that occurred to me was that perhaps Irene was the daughter of German or Dutch immigrants who had changed their name from Behl, Bale, or Bel. The reason that crossed my mind is because in the Wait family Bible, daughter Margaret Wait’s name is not spelled “Margaret”; its spelling looks more like “Margratha,” and Irene’s own name does not appear to be spelled as “Irene.” It looks more like “Rinea” or “Irinea.” Could Irene have been an Americanized version?

I’ve searched every way possible on Family Search and have come up empty handed. I’ve searched the trees on World Connect to no avail. A lead came up with the Bel surname, but upon further investigation, those Bels, members of the Dutch Reformed Church in Hackensack, NJ, had no daughters named Irene or anything approximate to Irene. Their one son also had no daughters by that name.

I have also searched New Jersey Marriage Records, 1665-1800, and early Connecticut Marriages, and come up with nothing.  Bell was a prominent family name in early Connecticut history, but I could find no record of an Irene. Perhaps they were married in a different state? I tried early Pennsylvania records as that is where Andrew Bell was from, but found nothing there.

The next best step appears to be to try to access burial records for the Alpine Cemetery in Perth Amboy. The First Presbyterian Church yard does not appear to have any grave sites; I suspect if it ever had a graveyard, it was moved to Alpine to make way for encroaching city growth. In any case, Irene Bell Wait is my brick wall. If you have any suggestions, please let me know!

 

**Burstyn, Joan N. (1997). Past and Promise: Lives of New Jersey Women. Syracuse University Press.

Categories: Bell, Perth Amboy, Wait | 2 Comments

David Wait Family of Perth Amboy, New Jersey

One family line which we can trace back only so far is the David Wait family of Perth Amboy, New Jersey. Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, David Wait settled in the town after the end of the Revolutionary War, married Irene Bell, and together they had 11 children. I have found two sources of biographical information about David Wait and his descendants online:

There is conflicting information about David Wait’s involvement in the Revolutionary War. The Wiley source says he came over to the Colonies as a British soldier, was captured and held a POW until after war’s end, and then eventually made his way to Perth Amboy via Sussex and Essex counties in NJ. The Mendenhall source says he enlisted in the Colonial Army, was captured and held by the British until the end of the war, and then went to Perth Amboy. I’m inclined to believe the former, but have not researched this further.

Perth Amboy on Map (US Census)

Presbyterianism in Perth Amboy, NJ describes the founding of the first Presbyterian Church in Perth Amboy by Capt. John Angus, David Wait, and John Lewis. The Wiley bio mentions David Wait as being a carpenter and his son John Oliver Wait, who married Elizabeth Crow (granddaughter of Col. Samuel Crow), as first working with David as a carpenter before starting his own successful baking business. John’s son, John Oliver Wait, entered into the business before striking out on his own at No. 24 Smith Street (until 1852) and No. 24 Smith Street (from 1852 onwards). Evidently he was extremely successful with his “breads, fine cakes, ice-cream and confections” as his resources allowed him to own a 130-acre farm in nearby Woodbridge.

Page 500 of the Wiley text

Page 503 of the Wiley Text (note: there was no text on pages 501-502)

If you go to the “Names S-Z” tab above, you will be able to see the family details I have thus far for David and Irene Wait and their descendents. I would love to know something about the pair’s ancestors, but so far have come up empty-handed. If you are extra attentive when reading the list,  you might notice something curious. Indeed, there is a bit of a mystery there. More about that in an upcoming post!

Categories: Bell, Crow, Martin, Perth Amboy, Wait | Leave a comment

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