I almost missed this slim, two volume set on my great-aunt's shelves when her effects were settled. The spines cracked, the leather flaking off in russet smears, they sat unobtrusively among the histories of old New England and New Jersey and a volume of David Hume published in Philadelphia during 1778, the year of British occupation. Most of the books in Aunt Margie's estate went to an antiquarian, but I was looking for anything with family connections and the dedications inscribed inside these shabby tomes lifted them from obscurity and placed them within that genealogical category.
They are 1824 editions, volumes 1 and 2, appropriately enough, of "The Antiquary." The writer is identified simply as "the author of Waverly." Sir Walter Scott had achieved such fame and recognition through that novel that his authorship was identified in this way in many of his subsequent writings. They were published in Great Britain and are in otherwise unremarkable save for their inked dedications.
I deduce from the identifying moniker at the top of the page, A. I. Olmsted, that they once belonged to the library of my Gr-gr-gr-great uncle Anthony Isaacs Olmsted of Philadelphia, and passed when he died to the family archivist, his brother Henry Morse Olmsted, and so on through the generations to me. They are not dedicated to him, however, and therein lies a story still shrouded in considerable mystery.
"Presented to Benjamin Weeks By William Manston on board the Ship Superb lying in Cowes Roads on the 22nd day of February 1830 the birthday of the Illustrious WASHINGTON."
There are many clues and unanswered question in these few brief lines. Benjamin Weeks is a puzzle and more on him follows, but William Weeks was an uncle by marriage, one of four merchant mariners to marry four daughters of my 5th great grandfather, Samuel Gilmore of Philadelphia. Many were captains in the transatlantic and China trade and two were lost at sea. One of those lost was Captain Isaac Isaacs, whose letter of instruction for two voyages to Canton in the early 1820s is discussed here, and the other was Captain William Weeks. My ancestor, Henry Morse Olmsted, picks up the tale in a lively reminiscence written in 1898 entitled "A Short Chapter of Practical Socialism."
"(Of) Captain Weeks I never knew anything except by the tradition of the family...went on a voyage to the NW Coast of America and was never heard of - He left a boy & a girl...The four sisters at a period far beyond my memory lived together and the Weeks two and the Olmsted four lived with them & the family had but one purse...The earnings of the Captains and the inheritance from the dying ones was common property for the Widows & the children...The Weeks daughter married well. She died at an advanced age in Morristown, leaving grandchildren who are in France."
A portrait of Captain Weeks was also part of the family collection until the 1980s, when quite unexpectedly the long lost French cousins reappeared - now owners of a fine Chateau producing Cognac for export - and my generous Great Aunt Margie chose to repatriate their ancestor's likeness to his progeny. Here she sits at right, beneath the nautical gaze of Captain William Weeks and his direct descendant, Philippe Vallantin Dulac of Logis de Lafont (Merignac).
As for the rest of the book's inscription, the Ship "Superb" was not one of the nine to have born that name in the English Navy, as none was commissioned at the time these books were gifted. I suspect it was Benjamin Week's vessel, and that he was the Week's son mentioned above and probably hailed from his father's home port of Philadelphia. This remains to be proved, but it is the most likely explanation - the son of mariners going to sea himself - for how these books came to the family.
I do not know who William Manston was but suspect he was an English associate of Benjamin Weeks. Note that the dedication tellingly says "the Illustrious WASHINGTON" instead of "our." Indeed, Washington's birthday was one of our first and most revered national celebrations, recognized and celebrated even before his presidency in honor of the general's service in the Revolutionary War. As a nationwide federal holiday, however, Washington's Birthday was only established in 1885, and now it is whichever Monday in February falls between his birthday and Lincoln's. Times change.
The Revolution and the War of 1812 were far enough in the past in 1830 to permit such transnational patriotic fellowship - although my ancestor Captain Moss Olmsted, who married another of the Gilmore girls - spent time during the latter conflict as a captive in Britain's Dartmoor prison. Merchant shipping sheltered at Cowes Roads waiting for a favorable wind to sail up the Channel to London or out to sea, and February being a cold and stormy month I can well imagine Benjamin Weeks cooling his heels at anchor and entertaining his business associates on board. A toast on Washington's Birthday and a thoughtful gift between former adversaries now allies would not have gone amiss.
Thus a tangled skein begins to unravel. Ain't genealogy grand?