Musings about life, love and genealogy.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

A Nation Comes Together

October 15, 2015 |

The small plastic bag that I’ve been carrying around since we left Gettysburg reads, “Our Country’s Common Ground.” It was a turning point in the Civil War, and its bloodiest battle. We spent three days there, just like the warring armies. Robert E. Lee was in command of the Army of Northern Virginia and General George Meade led the Army of the Potomac.1 However, the casualties were not limited to the battlefield. The aftermath of the three days of fighting left dead and dying soldiers in fields, public buildings and private homes. It took until January 1864 for the last of the patients and medical staff to finally leave the small Pennsylvania farming town the war disrupted six months earlier.2

Even before the war was over, concerned citizens looked to preserve portions of the battlefield as a memorial to the Union soldiers and in 1864, the Gettysburg Battlefield Association (GBA) was formed.3 When the GBA transferred their land holdings to the federal government in 1895, Gettysburg was designated a National Military Park.4 Within 2 years, there were no less than 90 monuments on the battlefield. There are more than 1,300 today.5

The monuments range from simple to spectacular, including the towering Celtic Cross of the Iron Brigade and the Pennsylvania State Monument, the largest on the battlefield with an impressive 90 bronze plaques listing the names of each of the 34,530 Pennsylvanians who fought there.6 Among the names inscribed on that monument were Loren and Ira Burritt, members of Company K, 56th PA infantry. Loren and Ira were Jason’s great-great uncles, the older brothers of his great-grandmother, Lilian Burritt Brock.

The 56th PA was the second regiment on the battlefield and part of the opening fire on the afternoon of 1 July 1863.7 The company’s monument, on Reynolds Avenue, is a bronze sculpture of three rifles supporting furled colors, a symbol that the regiment has completed its work.

A trip to Gettysburg is something every American should experience. You don’t need to have a veteran ancestor to appreciate the enormity of the sacrifices made by soldiers and citizens on both sides of the conflict. The blood shed on those three days in July, regardless of which flag it was lost for, defines our history as a nation, and in that recognition, we come together on common ground.

Click here to see additional pictures of monuments at Gettysburg.


  1. “Gettysburg History and Culture,” NPS, ( : accessed 15 October 2015).
  2. “Gettysburg History and Culture,” 2015.
  3. “Gettysburg History and Culture,” 2015.
  4. “Gettysburg History and Culture,” 2015.
  5. “Veterans, Monuments and Memory,” Civil War Trust, ( : accessed 15 October 2015).
  6. “Veterans, Monuments and Memory,” 2015.
  7. Monument, Company K, 56th PA Infantry, Gettysburg National Military Park, Gettysburg, PA, photographed by Donna Brock, 12 October 2015.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A Ghost by Any Other Name

October 13, 2015 |

I’ll admit, I’m writing this blog in between innings of game 4 of the NLDS series. The Mets – my Mets – are down 3-0 after 3 innings. Grrrr...... but, I’m already behind on blogging about our vacation so I’ll soldier on. And speaking of soldiers, yes, we’ve left Gettysburg, but I'm going to re-engage a time or two before I fully retreat.

Our ride from NJ to Gettysburg was scenic, beautiful and relatively uneventful. And then this happened...

...requiring a detour to a Verizon store to buy a new phone. With the new phone safely stashed in the Harley’s tour pack, we mustered on to Gettysburg traversing the pristine and perfectly manicured farmlands of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

We arrived in Gettysburg and checked in to The Swope Manor, a fabulous bed and breakfast a quick double time walk from the center of town. The inn was originally the home of George Swope. George, his wife Margaret and son John were living in the home during that fateful summer of July 1863. We stayed in the Meade Room, a nod to General George Meade, and our friends were in the Lt. Pohlman Room, named for the Union soldier who died there on July 21.1

Does the ghost of Lt. Pohlman still walk the floors of the Swope Manor? Someone does. At breakfast on Saturday morning, while telling the tale of the lieutenant’s demise, and assuring Liz and Jeff that he died in one of the first floor parlors and not the room they spent the night in, my teacup unexplainably started to rattle in its saucer.

That was the closest we got to the paranormal this trip, despite the ghost we took through the Farnsworth House, advertised as one of the most haunted houses in Gettysburg. It started in the garret (attic) of the Farnsworth House (where we had a lovely dinner prior to the tour) and tales of sharpshooters volleying ammunition across Baltimore Avenue and a mischievous young ghost who is drawn to blonde with blue eyes and likes to untie shoes. My bright white laces remained untouched, but Jason’s ball cap was pushed up on his head.

But it was the story of the Murphy brothers, James and Brady, soldiers with the 54th NY Infantry, that had us most intrigued. Brady, after losing his sight to exploding cannon fire, is escorted to a tree near the medical tent by his brother, James. Long story short, and believe me, it was a looooong story, James was killed in that explosion, so how could he possibly have taken care of his younger brother? My curiosity got the better of me and I researched the Murphy brothers and the 54th New York.

The 54th New York Infantry, under the command of Major Stephen Kovacs, was part of the Army of the Potomac’s First Brigade, First Division, 11th Army Corps. One of several German regiments in the division, the 54th NY, also known as the “Hiram Barney Rifles”, saw action in the Confederate attack of East Cemetery Hill on July 2, 1863.

Unfortunately, neither James nor Brady Murphy were on the roster of the 54th New York, so the bigger question is, how could they haunt a battlefield they were never on?

Not a ghost of a chance.


  1. Melody Asper, “Gettysburg Swope Manor Becomes a B&B,” 2 May 2013; online edition, The Evening Star, ( : accessed 13 October 2015).
  2. National Parks Service, “The Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg”, NPS, ( :accessed 13 October 2013).
  3. National Parks Service, “The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System,” NPS, ( accessed 13 October 2015), search for Brady and James Murphy, New York. Search yielded no results.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Wedding Belles

October 12, 2015 |

It’s now Day 4 of our 2015 Harley vacation but the first day I’ve blogged about it. Unusual, yes, but after a stopover in NJ to see the munchkins, 3 amazing days in Gettysburg and a daylong Harley ride to Elkins, West Virginia, there’s finally time to sit and put thoughts to keyboard.

There’s so much to tell about our Gettysburg experience - battlefields, monuments, ghost tours and a photo shoot as a Civil War officer with his southern belle. And speaking of belles, the sweetest one on this trip was the wedding variety.

We haven’t seen our friends Jeff and Liz since we left Massachusetts for Virginia. Since we’re both motorcycle and history enthusiasts, we thought Gettysburg would be a phenomenal opportunity for North and South to meet for a fall getaway. Unknown to us, they hoped to get married while we were there and two weeks before our rendezvous, they honored Jason and I by asking us to be witnesses at their wedding. It was a privilege to stand with our very good friends as they exchanged vows, rings and giggles. It was a simple but touching ceremony in the courtyard of The Swope Manor, the lovely bed and breakfast we called base camp while we explored the battlefields and history of Gettysburg.

The bride was radiant and the groom dapper. The love in their eyes was as beautiful as the sunset over Little Round Top and their future as promising as this morning’s sunrise. The ceremony was followed by champagne, the giggles became belly laughs and we celebrated the nuptials with dinner at The Dobbin House Tavern, Gettysburg’s oldest and most colonial home.

There’s something to be said about writing the first chapter of your history together in one of the most historic towns in our country. Congrats, Jeff and Liz!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

All's Well That Ends Well

September 17, 2015 |

It’s been a busy summer. I completed a very intensive genealogy research course through Boston University, which had me up to my elbows in citations for 15 weeks. We helped our daughter and son-in-law get settled in their new house in New Jersey. And, we decided that 110 inches of snow was too much, so we sold our house in Massachusetts and moved full time to our house in Virginia.

As we trekked from one cradle of history to another, I considered other Brock ancestors who also made significant moves with their families.

My late father-in-law, Richard used to tell a story of an ancestor who, while serving in the Civil War, got a drink of well water from a Virginia farm and exclaimed it was the best waster he ever tasted. The context for that life-altering libation may never be known, but according to Richard, the ancestor vowed to come back and buy that farm.

Since Richard had a reputation as a bit of a storyteller, I chalked this tale up to another chapter of Brock family lore. Several Brock relatives served during the Civil War, including great-great grandfather Alvan D. Brock and two of great-grandmother Lilian Burritt Brock's brothers, Loren and Ira.

None of the three went from field command to farmer.

Alvan was commended for bravery as part of the storming party during the assault on Fort Mahone1, but headed to California and the west coast real estate boom after the war. Loren Burritt served at Gettysburg and was promoted to Lt. Colonel with the 8th Regiment Colored Infantry. He was severely wounded at the battle of Olustee, Florida2. After the war, he returned to Athens, Pennsylvania where practiced law.

Brother Ira returned briefly to his native Pennsylvania3 after the war before relocating his family to Washington, D.C.4 where he was the proprietor and editor of The Sunday Herald.

Discounting these ancestors as the man at the well, I leveraged the tools from my new arsenal of research weapons and followed the signals - literally - to the Signal Corps and Sobieski Chapin.

Sobieski Loander Chapin was Richard’s great-grandfather. A native New Yorker, Sobieski initially enlisted with Company E, 76th Regiment and then transferred to the 76th NY Infantry Signal Corps,6 which was stationed in Virginia. After he mustered out, Sobieski returned to West Union, NY, collected his family, and headed back to Virginia. By 1880, the family is living in Dranesville, Fairfax County.7

In 1881, Sobieski purchased a 61 plus acre piece of property in Fairfax County, Virginia from Maria L. Barlow $203.37.8

Sobieski’s property was originally part of Sully Plantation, built in 1794 by Richard Bland Lee (an uncle of General Robert E. Lee). Lee lived there with his wife, Elizabeth Collins Lee until 1811.9 Alexander Haight and his wife Phebe Sweet owned the property during the Civil War.10 Phoebe and her sister-in-law, Maria Haight Barlow were left to defend their homes after Alexander and Jacob Barlow fled Alexandria to avoid incoming Federal troops. Alexander and Jacob were suspected [correctly] of being Union sympathizers. Alexander was under the protection of the Union Army near the end of the war.11

Sully Plantation is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and now on my new list of Virginia to-dos.

Now that I know Richard's stories may be more embellishment than lore, I'm anxious to start researching some of the others. For Sobieski, all’s well that ended [with a] well.

  1. Daniel S. Lamont, War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, (Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.: 1894) , Series I, Volume XLVI, p. 1056; online version, Google Books ( : accessed 10 September 2015) Report of Brig. General Simon G. Griffin.
  2. “U.S., Colored Troops Military Service Records, 1861-1865,” service return for Loren Burritt, Co. B, 8th Reg’t, Colored Infantry; digital image; Ancestry ( accessed 10 September 10, 2015). Loren served as a Major and as a Lt. Colonel with the 8th Reg’t after serving with Co. K, 56th Reg’t , Pennsylvania Infantry at Gettysburg. Loren eventually died from the wounds he sustained at Olustee.
  3. 1870 U.S. census, Susquehanna, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Herrick Township, p.1 (penned), dwelling 3, family 3, household of Amanda Burritt; digital image, Ancestry ( : accessed 10 September 2015) citing NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 1455. Ira, his wife Elizabeth and daughter Effie were living with his mother, Amanda, a 56-year old widow, and several of his younger siblings.
  4. 1880 U.S. census, Washington, District of Columbia, population schedule, p. 16 (penned), enumeration district (ED) 74, dwelling 146, family 164, household of Ira N. Burritt; digital image, Ancestry ( accessed 10 September 2015), citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 124.
  5. De Benneville Randolph Keim, Society in Washington: Its Noted Men, Accomplished Women, Established Customs, and Notable Events, “The Washington Correspondents, “ (Harrisburg Publishing Company, Pennsylvania : 1887), p. 215; online edition, Google Books ( accessed 10 September 2015).
  6. “New York, Town Clerks’ Registers of Men Who Served in the Civil War, ca 1861-1865;” Sobieske [sic] L. Chapin, enlistment, 18 July 1863; digital image, Ancestry ( accessed 10 September 2015) citing New York State Archives collection number (N-Ar) 13774, box 58, roll 31. Sobieske L. Chapin, enlisted as a private with Co. E, 76th Regiment, NY for a term of 3 years. Also, U.S., Civil War Pension Files, 1861-1934,” for Sobiescki L. Chapin, database index and digital file, Ancestry ( : accessed 10 September 2015). An invalid’s pension request was filed on 22 August 1891 in Virginia.
  7. 1880 U.S. census, Fairfax County, Virginia, population schedule, Dranesville District, p. 17 (penned), enumeration district (ED) 39, dwelling 149, family 151, household of S.L. Chapin; digital image, Ancestry ( : accessed 10 September 2015), citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 1364.
  8. Fairfax County, VA, Deed Book A: 320, Barlow, et. al to S.L. Chapin, 31 August 1881, County Courthouse, Fairfax.
  9. “Lee Family Cemetery at Sully,” Fairfax Genealogical Society ( : accessed 15 September 2015). Information abstracted from Volume 4 of the Fairfax County gravestone books.
  10. “Guide to the Alexander Haight family collection, 1764-1977,” online index and biographical information, George Mason University Libraries, ( : accessed 10 September 2015) search for Alexander Haight.
  11. Julius Stahel, Fairfax, VA, letter, 20 June 1868; digital image, George Mason University Libraries ( : accessed 15 September 2015). Stahel certifies that Alexander Haight of Sully Farm is a good and loyal citizen deserving of the protection of the Union Army.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Mary Jones: The Tavern Keeper's Wife

March 3, 2015 |

One of my interests is history, and locally that includes the Golden Ball Tavern, a National Trust landmark in Weston, MA. The tavern, built in 1767 by merchant Isaac Jones, served as tavern for more than 20 years and as home to six generations of the Jones family for nearly 200 years.

As a member of the Golden Ball's Education Committee, I volunteer time to give tours of the tavern, telling the remarkable story of Isaac, the role the tavern played during the Revolutionary War and its resurgence as a hotel/boarding home in the mid-19th century during the tenure of Isaac's great-great grandson, George and his wife Lettie Frost Jones. Taverns, ordinaries or inns as they were called, were the social and cultural centers of life in the 18th century and tavern keeping was an important and viable profession, even for women.

Today, the Golden Ball Tavern Museum recalls an integral part of local Weston history through tours to school groups, civic and social organizations and any other groups or individuals interested in an up close and personal glimpse into the lives and history of the Jones family. The tours focus on Isaac Jones, Tory and then Patriot, highlights of the home and tavern, its role in the Revolution and the Weston "Tea Party", but recently, the Education Committee agreed to add a first-person interpretation as well, and that will come in the person of Mary Jones.

Mary was the widow of Stephen Willis and the second wife of Isaac Jones. She married Isaac in 1762, he himself a widower. His first wife, Anna died of small pox, leaving him with three young children. Five years later, when Mary and Isaac took up residence in the newly opened Golden Ball Tavern, their young family had grown to include eight children (4 more would follow).

Little is known about Mary specifically. Unlike Lettie Frost Jones, Mary didn't leave a diary or journal, but conclusions about her daily routine can be drawn by her role as a mother and the wife of a wealthy 18th century tavern owner. A typical day would have included cooking (for both her family and the tavern guests), sewing, cleaning and home management. In 18th century New England, women played active roles shaping their own lives the communities in which they lived. Given her status, Mary Jones was likely no exception.

Clothing, like the furnishings and architecture of one’s home were visual representations of wealth and stature in the 18th century. The quality and quantity of Mary’s wardrobe, and that of her daughters and step-daughters, would have been directly influenced by their position in the community. Although fabric was expensive, the cost to make a woman’s gown or petticoat was not, and It’s probable that Mary owned several gowns, jackets, petticoats, aprons and caps, both for daily wear and for more formal or social occasions. I’d venture to guess that like any woman of prominence, she had multiple pairs of shoes as well.

Clothing, given its expense, was considered property and often listed on probate inventories. When she died in 1813, Mary Jones’ clothing and accoutrements were likely bequeathed to her surviving daughters or daughters-in-law to be refitted, repurposed or restyled.

An abundance of period fashion plates, paintings, websites and blogs are available online to give you a better sense of the fabrics and styles worn by women like Mary Jones in 18th century New England.

To learn more about the Jones family and the Golden Ball Tavern, visit their website or Facebook page.


[Colonial gown image credit:; A Colonial Lady’s Clothing: A Glossary of Terms]
[Isaac Jones 1770 tavern license credit: The Golden Ball Tavern Museum]